Theatre review: The Government Inspector gives a seriously funny ass-kicking

For a play that was originally written in 1836, Nikolai Gogol’s The Government Inspector is an often laugh-out-loud satirical look at government folly that helps prove that the one precent have been around a lot longer than we may have imagined.

Adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher from its original Russian, The Government Inspector sees the Mayor and the other one percenters of an isolated Russian village get word of a government inspector from Petersburg sniffing around their small provincial town. Not immune to a few bribes themselves, the Mayor and his cronies find the tables turned and they set out hoping that a few well placed rubles will smooth things over. As is the case in stories such as these though not everything is as it seems and the village’s supposed power brokers become even more blinded by their greed.

In director David Mackay’s Russian backwater, little is done in half-measures. From a veritable sea of over-the-top performances to the costumes and even the wild make-up, Mackay successfully immerses us inside the ridiculousness of the story and characters. While at times one had hoped that Hatcher had been a bit more judicious with his adaptation (really, none of us would have known if he had removed some of the more superfluous parts of Gogol’s text), Mackay and his actors are so committed, that we easily give into this bizarre ride.

Alumnus Joel Wirkkunen returns to the Studio 58 stage as the fatuous Mayor, perfectly suited to the role of this bombastic clown and Tim W Carlson takes us on a surprisingly layered performance as the government inspector Ivan.

But while Wirkkunen and Carlson are eminently watchable on their own, they are at their best feeding off the energy of the other buffoons around them. In fact, it is the ensemble work here that finds the bulk of the show’s appeal and with a cast of 23 there is plenty to like.

Stephanie Izsak and Siona Gareau-Brennan are wonderfully matched in the strained mother-daughter relationship. Izsak takes the buffoonery of her role to great heights in her colourful costumes and clown painted face while Bareau-Brennan gives the daughter a deliciously sullen Lydia Deetz type demeanour. Katey Hoffman manages to command attention each time she steps on stage as the Postmistress and Daniel Doheny as the inspector’s servant has his comic timing down nearly as perfect as his deadpan delivery. And the Tweelde-dumb and Tweedle-dumber of Dallas Sauer and Jordan Jenkins had us wanting so much more stage time for this hilarious duo.

Jordan Jenkins, Stephanie Izsak and Dallas Sauer in the Studio 58 production of The Government Inspector. Photo by David Cooper.
Jordan Jenkins, Stephanie Izsak and Dallas Sauer in the Studio 58 production of The Government Inspector. Photo by David Cooper.

Costumes, wigs and millinery from Mara Gottler, Christine Hackman and Sydney Cavanagh respectively, come together in perfect (dis)harmony, providing a wonderfully ridiculous contrast to the classes. Pam Johnson’s set provides much needed space for this large cast and while it felt a tad generic, one has got to appreciate the theatrical magic she uses to move us between settings. And like the proverbial clown car, the small upright wardrobe in the sitting room of the Mayor’s house deserves its own special mention.

Giving government inefficiency and the one percent a seriously funny ass kicking, if it hadn’t been for the iron fist of Tsarist Russia at the time, The Government Inspector could have easily spurred the rise of Occupy Petersburg.

4 Out of 5 Stars The Government Inspector

Adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher from the original by Nikolai Gogol. A Studio 58 Langara College production. On stage at Studio 58 through December 2, 2012. Visit http://studio58.ca for tickets and information.

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