Oh, good Gogol! Director David Mackay throws everything he has in his directorial grab bag at Jeffrey Hatcher's modern adaptation of Nikolai Gogol's The Government Inspector. I realize that theatre students need to build skills across the whole spectrum but I'm not a big fan of farce so this show - crazily chaotic and monumentally madcap - won't be my favourite of Studio 58's 2012 season.
But, once again, the superb training these students get is obvious; the ensemble work is tight and every character is finely crafted. Even minor characters stand out: the accordion-playing peasant who, after each chorus, shouts, with a glowering look, "Hey!" A postmistress who has a red, runny nose and sings ABBA's "Money, Money, Money." A bored, gum-chewing mayor's daughter. An oversexed mayor's wife, described by her husband as "a cold and clotted thing that used to be human." There isn't a character who hasn't got some sort of carefully considered and worked out tic.
And the ensemble work stands out: crazy scenes with everyone running, hiding or moving as one. A running gag has everyone, one after the other, hiding in a wardrobe. How many actors can you get in a wardrobe? More than twenty.
The set design by Pam Johnson is fabulous. An elegant government office, marble-pillared and hung with red brocade, miraculously transforms into a shabby room at a one-star inn. The set morphs yet a third time into the mayor's drawing room. These changes all appear before your eyes. Blink and you'll miss them.
Mara Gottler's period costumes (Ukraine, circa 1836) are grand, especially the black lace and rose-strewn gown on Anna Andreyevna (Stephanie Izsak). Adding to already high production values is Adrian Muir's lighting.
There are two roles in The Inspector General that are absolutely critical to the success of this play: Ivan Alexandreyevich Hlestakov (Tim W. Carlson) and Mayor Anton Antonovich (Joel Wirkkunen). Mackay's casting here is perfect. Carlson is young, rosy-cheeked and guileless until his bumbling character figures things out. Wirkkunen, a Studio 58 grad and the sole Equity performer, blows and blusters like Tropical Storm Sandy. Not tall but powerfully built, Wirkkunen holds court as, draped in the mayor's medals of office, he orders everyone around.
It's the old gag of mistaken identity. Shakespeare was shameless in his use of it and Gogol was not above it either. A small, rustic town (where "people eat soup with their hands") and rife with corruption, especially in the areas of health, education and the judiciary, is about to be visited by a government inspector.
When it is rumoured the inspector has arrived, Mayor Anton Antonovich goes into high gear to prevent the inspector from discovering how bad things are. Of course, Ivan Alexandreyevich Hlestakov is not the inspector but benefits royally from everyone's misunderstanding. Hundreds of rubles, which he happily accepts, change hands.
Obviously, the mistake is eventually discovered and if all hell hasn't already broken loose, it does now.
Opening night audience loved this show and laughed loud and long.
It took me a while to warm up. However, I may be a miserable scribbler but no one could sit through this show without at least a chortle now and again. The Government Inspector is zany, ambitious, large and, needless to say, timely: Provincial Ukrainian towns in 1836 didn't have an exclusive on corruption.