A small Russian town in 1836 is ruled by a corrupt mayor and is stocked with incompetent officials all on the take. They’re in a tizzy when they learn that an emissary of The Tsar has been sent to investigate their malfeasance. A young, unemployed wastrel staying at the town’s ramshackle inn is mistakenly assumed to be the investigator. A comedy of errors unfolds that exposes the greediness and hypocrisy of society.
Playwright Jeffrey Hatcher’s frothy adaptation is jocularly crammed with one-liners, zingers, anachronisms and double entendres. Written in 2008, it has coincidental parallels to the present U.S. political scene with its boorish leaders gleefully taking advantage of the spoils gained through their offices. That adds to the show’s enjoyment.
Director Jesse Berger’s fast-paced staging is an exuberant amalgam of physical and verbal virtuosity combined with visual flair. A highlight is a crowd of characters hurrying into a closet and popping out one by one that’s out of a Marx Brothers movie. There’s also the spectacle of a group of bearded, shabby villagers of various heights storming The Mayor’s house in their flowing garments.
Swaggering and preening, Michael Urie is terrific as Hlestakov, the initially unwitting imposter. The athletic Mr. Urie lopes throughout the farcical complications with his characteristic charm. Urie is at his ingratiating best when singing a clever parody of show tunes.
Michael McGrath dominates the show with his unrelentingly sly and self-absorbed, whirlwind portrayal of The Mayor. Blustering and commanding while wearing a Napoleonic uniform, Mr. McGrath is toweringly comical.
Voluptuously careening around in a pink hoop dress, Mary Testa makes the most of her every moment as the shrewish Mayor’s Wife. Ms. Testa’s vocal fluctuations, comic timing and offbeat grandeur are priceless.
Arnie Burton is marvelous in two roles. Mr. Burton is wickedly wry as the doltish servant of Hlestakov and mirthfully effete as the snooping Postmaster.
Talene Monahon is perfectly feisty as the mayor’s petulant daughter. Mary Lou Rosato forcefully appears as several funny stock characters.
The rest of the dynamic ensemble is comprised of Stephen DeRosa, Ryan Garbayo, Kelly Hutchinson, David Manis, Ben Mehl, Talene Monahon, Luis Moreno, James Rana, and Tom Alan Robbins. They all excel with their loony turns as assorted townspeople.
The stage is a horizontally divided into two sections. The lower half is two compartments, one is the mayor’s office, and the other is the inn. The upper half is the mayor’s drawing room. Each room is appropriately furnished with period detail. This arresting scenic design by Alexis Distler perfectly frames all of the antics.
Fur hats, tailcoats, sumptuous gowns, and peasant’s rags are the chief features of Tilly Grimes’ dazzling costume design. Inspired touches include a grimy black dress for a hunchbacked woman and a miniature outfit for the undersized Innkeeper’s Wife.
Megan Lang and Peter West’s lighting design is mostly a steady brightness that adeptly showcases the action.
The bouncy, baroque themed score by Greg Pliska adds a marvelous Tom Jones quality to the events. It’s well realized by Mr. Pliska’s fine sound design.
First published in book form in 1836, Gogol’s The Government Inspector scandalized Tsarist Russia with its accurate take on systemic thievery. The plot device has been a staple of the stage, films and television ever since, and includes a 1949 Hollywood musical version starring Danny Kaye.
This highly entertaining Red Bull Theater production is a wonderful opportunity to experience the play’s timeless splendor.
The Government Inspector
Red Bull Theater
The Duke on 42nd Street, 229 W 42nd Street, in Manhattan (through June 24, 2017)
For tickets, call 646-223-3010 or visit http://www.redbulltheater.com
Moves to New World Stage, 350 W. 5oth Street, in Manhattan (July 5 – August 20, 2017)
For tickets for the extension, call 212-947-8844 or visit http://www.telecharge.com
Running time: two hours with one intermission