Gogol’s Satire Highlights How Self-Deception Fuels Greed
by Patricia L. Morin
Jeffrey Hatcher’s adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s 1836 comedy delights us with satire of small-town tyranny.
In a Russian town, a panicked Mayor (versatile Steve Price) finds out from a letter that a Government Inspector will arrive “incognito.” The undercover Inspector will audit how they spent state funds for buildings and services. However, he may have already arrived!
Mayhem ensues with the Mayor’s officials: The Judge, The Hospital Director, and The Educator scurry around the office with exaggerated gestures and excuses. They spontaneously incriminate themselves, confessing to their long-standing bribery—without even being accused. We laugh at their foolish self-deception and rationalizations.
The quick-witted Judge (articulate Philip Goleman) boldly asserts: “I tell everyone plainly that I take bribes, but what kind of bribes? Why, greyhound puppies. That’s a totally different matter.”
When the Mayor asks the complaisant Hospital Director (Christopher Harney) to equip patients with clean nightcaps and remove their strong tobacco, he responds, “If a patient is going to die, he will die anyway.”
Set designer Ron Krempetz creates two colorful arched doorways, separated by lattice walls covered with photos. The simple furniture allows the scenes to flow seamlessly, with swift entrances and exits.
Gogol broke new ground, bringing wild varieties of humor and ridicule to the stage.
Using Keystone Cops-style speed chases and Three Stooges’ slapstick, poke-your-eye-out humor, director Lisa Morse insightfully shapes her raucous cast of fourteen. The cast spotlights Gogol’s satire of self-serving “leaders.” On the small stage, the choreographed movements alone hit comic heights.
I love the different types of humor and speed of delivery.
Two town squires, Bobchinsky (Raysheina de Leon-Ruhs) and Dobchinsky (Benjamin Vasquez), talented performance artists, innocently bring disaster to their town. They confuse cavalier Hlestekov (dynamic Michel B. Harris), a grifter, with the expected inspector from St. Petersburg. Outfitted in identical clownish attire—by wonderfully inventive designer Michael A. Berg—the two stand out in bizarre contrast. Like liberated marionettes, the squires move in syncopation, often mimicking the officials.
Hlestakov, depressed and penniless, is suddenly inundated with spontaneous and gratuitous bribes without exerting any effort. Harris portrays the grifter with charm and finesse.
Jeffrey Hatcher’s adaptation turns the tables on the bourgeoisie by showing a poverty-stricken worker about to kill himself because he cannot survive. Hatcher underlines the harrowing, modern contrast between grifters and homeless that we see around us.
When Hlestekov woos the Mayor’s easily-seduced wife Anna (playful Pamela Ciochetti), and daughter, fickle Marya (coy Hunter Candrian-Velez), it’s clear that women are ultimately at the mercy of men.
Hlestekov’s sidekick, snarky Osip (sardonic Wood Lockhart), chides him at every turn; but he affirms his boss’s legitimacy. Osip rattles off dry quips like an aged court jester.
Although the brilliant comedy tells us that the Inspector may never appear, we can soon detect the culprit.
You’ll enjoy “The Government Inspector.” See it and have some fun!
“The Government Inspector” by Nikolai Gogol, adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher, directed by Lisa Morse, at Ross Valley Players, Mill Valley, California. Info: RossValleyPlayers.com – to June 5, 2022.
Cast: Pamela Ciochetti, Daphne Cowlin, Philip Goleman, Christopher Harney, Michel B. Harris, Natalie Mendes, Robert Molossi, Greg Nelson, Steve Price, Wood Lockhart, Steve Price, Raysheina de Leon-Ruhs, Benjamin Vasquez, Hunter Candrian-Velez, and Alexandra Weitman.
Banner photo: Hunter Candrian-Velez (Marya) & Michel B. Harris (Hlestekov). Photos by Robin Jackson