Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Government Inspector


Red Bull Theater is presenting Jeffrey Hatcher’s clever adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s 1836 comic masterpiece about corruption in a provincial Russian town. One of the strengths of the play is that it is simultaneously deeply Russian and universal. Hatcher has wisely decided not to update it or deemphasize its Russianness. He lets the audience find their own similarities to our times. This production’s biggest plus is the casting of Michael Urie (Buyer and Cellar, TV’s Ugly Betty) as Hlestakov, the wastrel who is mistaken for the visiting inspector. He demonstrates a previously unseen talent for physical comedy that is prodigious. As the mayor, Michael McGrath channels his inner Nathan Lane to our delight. Mary Testa is a hoot as the mayor’s wife. Arnie Burton chews the scenery as the postmaster and is droll as Hlestakhov’s servant Osip. Most of the other ten actors (Stephen DeRosa, Ryan Garbayo, Kelly Hutchinson, David Manis, Ben Mehl, Talent Monohon, Luis Moreno, James Rana, Tom Alan Robbins, Mary Lou Rosato) create vivid characters and work well as an ensemble. At two hours, the comedy wears a little thin. Alexis Distler’s set design is problematic. While the sets for each of the play’s three locations are effective, presenting them as a bilevel unit seems to be an inelegant and unnecessary solution. I advise against sitting in the first two rows, because you might get a stiff neck from looking up at the set’s upper level, where the last 3/4 of the action takes place. Tilly Grimes’s period costumes are wonderful. Red Bull’s artistic director Jesse Berger keeps things moving fluidly. If you enjoy farce and slapstick, well-performed, you will have an enjoyable time. Running time: two hours including intermission.

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