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September 30, 2012

'The Government Inspector' still has clout in Shakespeare Theatre staging

More than 175 years after its premiere in St. Petersburg, Gogol's "The Government Inspector" has lost little of its satirical spice.

The play remains almost painfully on target about the way people behave in public office and society; about how some of the least capable among us can end up running, say, education,  health care or the courts.

The Gogol classic also still has a lot of comic mileage left in it, as the Shakespeare Theatre Company underlines in its breezy new production, which uses Jeffrey Hatcher's effective, it sometimes heavy-handed, adaptation.

There's something particularly fun about ...

seeing "The Government Inspector" in Washington. The work might be set in a Russian backwater, but, heaven knows, it applies anywhere political hacks gather or influence peddlers roam free, anywhere folks with some power fear the slightest scrutiny, regulation or accountability.

Gogol fashioned a surefire scenario -- the ruling clique in a provincial town get word that a dreaded government inspector is heading their way, traveling incognito. A no-account civil servant spotted at a hotel, where he can't even pay the bill, is mistaken for that inspector and is promptly wined, dined and bribed. From this, all sorts of opportunities arise to skewer target after target and generate any number of laughs.

The plot is so durable that it has inspired many versions over the decades; a notable recent example is John Musto's "The Inspector," given a sparkling premiere by Wolf Trap Opera in 2011. And who could forget the hotel inspector episode on "Fawlty Towers"?

The Shakespeare Theatre Company's production doesn't quite tear up the Lansburgh Theatre the way the manic staging of "The Servant of Two Masters" did there last spring. But, directed by company head Michael Kahn, the show delivers the goods.

There is, happily, no attempt to lay anything serious over the proceedings. It's all played broadly and brightly (Philip S. Rosenberg's lighting actually verges on the harsh).

The cartoon-ish costumes designed by Murell Horton pop out and puff up drolly. James Noone's cute, revolving set allows for fluid pacing (the turnstile failed to function on opening night, but the stage crew moved it manually with aplomb).

The cast jumps into character and/or caricature gleefully. Derek Smith, rubbery of frame and loaded with facial expressiveness, does a particularly winning job as the non-inspector, Hlestakov.

Rick Foucheux huffs away with flair as the crawly Mayor, and Nancy Robinette offers equally vibrant work as the mayor's aspiring, calculating wife. Completing that happy home is Claire Brownell, who makes an enjoyably sarcastic, downright goth Marya.

Hugh Nees (Bobchinsky) and Harry A. Winter (Dobchinsky) bubble through the play to charming effect. Liam Craig, as Hlestakov's snide valet Osip (seemingly patterned here after Baldrick in "Blackadder"), could use a bit more spark. Sarah Marshall could use a bit more subtlety, but she certainly leaves her mark in a variety of roles, including the mayor's ultimate low-life servant and a diminutive innkeeper.

Floyd King, as the fey, prying postmaster who considers all mail fair game for browsing, reveals a good deadpan, and the rest of the ensemble ably fills out this welcome dash through Gogol's madcap masterpiece.

"The Government Inspector" runs through Oct. 28 at the Lansburgh Theatre. UPDATE: The run has been extended to Nov. 4.


Posted by Tim Smith at 1:26 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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