The Inspector General
In writing his theatrical masterpiece, Nikolai Gogol may have been satirizing the corruption of early 19th-Century Tzarist Russia, but in the Colorado Shakespeare Festival's (CSF) current production (a collaboration with the Maxim Gorky Theatre of Vladivostok, Russia), the behaviors of the officials will ring true with folks the world over.
Given the authoritarian political circumstances when the play premiered, the sharp edges were often muted by broad, farcical strokes (much to Gogol's dismay). In this production, director Efim Zvenyatsky employs a variety of styles that echo Gogol's original surrealistic intentions, which were revived (after 100 years of nonsense realism) in the 1926 expressionist version directed by Vsevolod Meyerhold.
|(L to R) Stephen Weitz|
and Gary Alan Wright as the Mayor
Photo: Patrick Campbell
for CU Communications
This avant-garde approach is taken a step further in the adapted script (Julia Polshina and the CSF), which contains a number of contemporary references (some of which go by too quickly for those not receiving the full volume of the dialogue) that underscore the universality of Gogol's critique and bring home some of its bite.
The gaiety and carnival atmosphere of a typical burg located somewhere in the interior provinces of Russia ("You could gallop for three years in a any direction and still be in Russia.") is interrupted when town officials learn that a government inspector is coming to check them out. They fret that their corruption and incompetence will be found out by this unnamed official.
Local gossip has it that a gentleman, Khlestakov (Stephen Weitz), and his valet, Osip (Jake Walker), from St. Petersburg are staying at a local inn, so the Mayor (Gary Alan Wright) and his deputies—the Judge (Sam Sandoe), Health Commissioner (Eric Sandvold), Superintendent of Schools (Mark Rubald), Postmaster (Geoffrey Kent), and a visiting German physician, Dr. Huebner (Benjamin Bonenfant)—assume that this is the inspector general travelling incognito.
At first, Khlestakov is confused by the generous treatment availed to him, but gradually warms to the power he has over the misguided local officials. The glee with which Weitz fills Khlestakov, as he lightens the wallets of the local officials, is infectious, bringing us to fantasize a similar karmic retribution upon our own representatives, who shamelessly serve the interests of a small financial elite.
If the Keystone Cops could speak, they might be much like Wright's self-aggrandizing Napoleonic Mayor (great get up by costume designer Vladimir Koltunov) and his clueless underlings—each of whom brandishes his own vaudevillian quirks— alternately crowding around, lining up, and scattering about, all the while clucking at each other like a gaggle of geese.
The Mayor's wife (Lanna Joffrey) and daughter (Jamie Ann Romero), make hilarious passes at Khlestakov as well, tying up Gogol's pointed lampoon. Lots of other clever shtick from the large ensemble. The detailed sound design (Timothy Orr and Rodolfo "Rudy" Garcia III) adds a playful, cartoonish element to the proceedings.
The Colorado Shakespeare Festival's production of The Inspector General runs through August 13th, in repertory with Romeo and Juliet, A Comedy of Errors, and The Little Prince. 303-492-0554 or www.coloradoshakes.org.