By Tulis McCall
This is the old story of mistaken identity, based on the play Revizor by Nikolai Gogol. Or, as I like to think, it is REALLY based on the movie The Inspector General starring Danny Kaye at his best. The place is Nowhere, Russia in the mid 1800s. The small town is in an uproar because the Mayor (Michael McGrath) has it on food authority that they are about to be invaded by a Government Inspector who will appear incognito and stick his nose into everyone else’s business. This would be like pulling a thread on a beaded dress. All the officials and mucky mucks are on the dole so much that they should just hang onto the money a=instead of passing it on to each other. The Mayor tries to put out fires by directing the School Principal (David Manis) to send all the children to the poorly built and presently empty hospital where the Director (Stephen DeRosa) and Doctor (James Rana) will take care of everything. In addition he directs the Judge (Tom Alan Robbins) to get the geese out of the jury box. He has no advice for the Postmaster (Arnie Burton) who is way ahead of everyone in town.
In the middle of the tumult, two local blokes Dobchinsky (Ben Mehl) and Bobchinsky (Ryan Garbayo) arrive with the news that they have SEEN the inspector. He is a guest at the inn. Huzzah – the Mayor is off to save the day.
Meanwhile at the inn a dilettante by the name of Hlestakov (Michael Urie) is working out the kinks in his suicide. He has spent the money his father gave him. The innkeeper is about to give him the heave-ho. The only thing left is to keep his dignity and kill himself. But first – what should the pose be? How to hold the gun? And more importantly how is the hair holding up? His servant Osip is underwhelmed. Up pops the Mayor, and in a matter of minutes the funds needed have been offered with more to come as well as a guest room in the Mayor’s Manse.
Everyone returns to the manse where the Mayor’s wife Anna (Mary Testa) and Marya (Talene Monahon) are waiting. Predictably – and this play is nothing if not predicable – Hlestakov lusts after the daughter while the mother lusts after him. As soon as everyone is assembled we are presented with a hilarious scene in which Hlestakov guzzles one enormous glass of the local wine after another until he is plastered. On the way to this demise, Urie releases his inner clown and takes us on a merry ride. He is quick. He is nimble. And if there had been a candlestick he would have jumped over it. It is a brilliant piece of fancy footwork. And it is the last gasp of sustained excellence that this production possess.
Urie does appear in the second act, but because his scenes depend on the actors with whom he is partnered, the steam runs out quickly. No one, with the occasional exception of Mary Testa, who knows from timing, seems to have a clue what is happening. Jesse Berger’s direction feels flat and heavy. Everyone except Urie and Burton seems to be playing in what we thing of as the broad style of 19th century melodramas. This results in the actors appearing spend the majority of their time onstage waiting for a cue instead of listening. And when they are given a cue, their resulting actions are layered on with a heavy hand. There is no nuance, no inner life, no spark. The cast is not aided by the text. I don’t know if Jeffrey Hatcher translated Gogol from the Russian. In any case, the text as written is either a poor translation or the original was as dull as a box of rocks. The two-storied set is awkward to look at, and confines everyone to the equivalent of a long hallway for most of the show. The how and why of it all is a mystery.
Urie and Burton together seem to have come up with plans on their own. Each stalks the stage like a detective looking for clues. Their inner lives and intentions smolder. The surroundings are scoured, people are listened to, judgements are made, and occasionally we are the subject of their intent. They make you wonder; they make you laugh, and they surprise you. As I said – they are worth the watching. Big time.
The Government Inspector – Adapted By Jeffrey Hatcher From Revizor By Nikolai Gogol, Directed by Jesse Berger
WITH Arnie Burton, Stephen Derosa, Ryan Garbayo, Kelly Hutchinson, David Manis, Michael Mcgrath, Ben Mehl, Talene Monahon, Luis Moreno, James Rana, Tom Alan Robbins, Marylou Rosato, Mary Testa, Michael Urie
Set Design Alexis Distler ;Sound Design & Original Music Greg Pliska; Costume Design Tilly Grimes ;Lighting Design Megan Lang Peter West; Hair & Wig Design Dave Bova
Red Bull Theater Jesse, Berger, Artistic Director Presents The Government Inspector , The Duke on 42nd Street (229 West 42nd Street, between 7th and 8th Avenues. Through June 24. Tickets