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vancouverplays review


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— Photo credit: David Cooper

by Nikolai Gogol, adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher
Studio 58, Langara College
Nov. 15-Dec. 2
$24.75/$20.75/$14.25 or 604.684.2787

There’s a sucker born every minute. Greed is blind. And there’s no corruption like government corruption.

These are the themes of Nikolai Gogol’s The Government Inspector (sometimes translated as The Inspector General). Gogol wrote his satire in 1836 in Czarist Russia and was lucky not to end up in Siberia—or worse. Czar Nicholas allowed the play to be produced because he saw it as being about everyone else’s corruption, not his own. That’s part of the play’s genius.

The Government Inspector has hardly dated at all over the past two centuries because it tells hilarious truths about human nature generally and political situations specifically, as in Michel Tremblay’s famous 1985 adaptation, set in rural Quebec during the Duplessis era.

David Mackay’s production, using Jeffery Hatcher’s adaptation and featuring the students of Langara’s Studio 58 acting program, doesn’t attempt to tie the play to any particular contemporary scenario, although it’s hard not to be reminded of the hearings involving mayors and Mafia in Quebec today. Mackay’s Government Inspector is all about making every character and situation as funny as possible. And this is one funny show.

Gogol’s story is simple. The mayor of a Russian town in the middle of nowhere hears that a government inspector from the capital has arrived. He and his bureaucrats rush around trying to make all the corrupt institutions and decrepit infrastructure look as good as possible. Everyone tries to bribe the inspector, and the mayor’s wife and daughter throw themselves at him.

But the guy isn’t an important government inspector at all, just a minor clerk. Realizing that he’s the object of mistaken identity, he embraces the role and leads the townspeople to make ever greater fools of themselves.

Although set in 19th century Russia, Hatcher’s script feels very contemporary. “Why are you dressed like a lamp in a whorehouse?” the mayor asks when he sees his wife in one of costumer Mara Gottler’s fabulously garish gowns. When someone suggests to the mayor that he fire incompetent teachers before the inspector gets to the school, he answers incredulously, “Have you ever seen a teacher’s contract?”

Mackay adds many of his own fine touches, including a dour peasant (very funny Masae Day) who plays accordion between scenes, telling us, “if you pay me, the scene change goes faster,” then complaining, “you guys are cheaper than the gags in this show.”

There are cheap gags aplenty and most of them get big laughs thanks to a babushka-full of talented performances. Joel Wirkkunen, the only Equity actor in the company, energetically huffs and puffs and bleats his way through the play as the Mayor, setting the comic bar high for the student actors. As the pretend inspector, Tim W. Carlson grows into his role nicely and displays a crass comic charm. Daniel Doheny is excellent as his sarcastic servant.

Stephanie Izsak brings rich comic texture to the mayor’s wife and has one of the best lines in the play when she describes herself living in “a town where people eat soup with their hands.” Siona Gareau-Brennan makes a meal of the sullen daughter.

Katey Hoffman is delightful as the red-nosed postmistress who reads everyone’s mail. Dallas Sauer and Jordan Jenkins play the twin-like landowners, Dobchinsky and Bobchinsky, like a combination of Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern and the Two Stooges. And Cheyenne Mabberley once again proves the adage that there are no small parts, shining in the tiny role of the maid.

When the fraud is revealed at the end, the mayor reassures his cronies with a line that reminds us just how astute Gogol was about politics: “You can always blame someone. That’s what people are for.”

Jerry Wasserman