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Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2009

‘The Government Inspector’ Shines at Milwaukee Rep

Theater Review

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The Milwaukee Rep’s season opener, Nikolai Gogol’s classic satire The Government Inspector, turned out to be a much-needed winner on all counts. After an indifferent summer season, opening-night audiences were delighted with Jeffrey Hatcher’s hilariously spiky, refreshingly updated translation, demonstrating once again director Joseph Hanreddy’s knack at coordinating a talented cast of skillful players into an ensemble of split-second timing so necessary in comedy.

The story concerns a provincial Russian town thrown into a panic over the news of the arrival of a Czarist government inspector from Moscow, and the ensuing silliness and greed that accompany their frantic efforts to conceal the corrupt incompetence of their petty bureaucratic officials. When a down-and-out suicidal gentleman deeply in debt is confused by the bumbling mayor for the disguised inspector, all pandemonium breaks loose. The unwitting imposter is only too happy to accept voluntary special-interest bribes. Gogol brilliantly demonstrates that everyone has something to hide in a stratified society where everyone’s position is precarious and deceit is the first line of defense.

Many will be amused by the corrupt village doctor’s views on health care, even more deviant than some extreme views current today. Medical treatment is done away with. Those meant to recover will do so; those meant to die will die quickly! Since the hospital’s rooms are too tiny for adults, why not label the hospital for children only?

However, this is a comic farce, and as the characters undercut each other to please the unwitting imposter, the hilarity almost goes over the top in approaching a Marx Brothers zany-fest—but the audience loved it.

A superlative cast presides throughout. Gerard Neugent takes center stage in a difficult performance as the imposter. Peter Silbert is pompously convincing as the gullible mayor. Deborah Staples and Kathleen Romond excel as his sex-oriented wife and daughter. Seasoned veteran Laura Gordon steals her scenes as the dowdy old widow who is on to the imposter from the start. In a small role, the versatile Lee Ernst stands out as the smarmy postmaster who opens everyone’s mail. Yet he becomes the final arbiter of guilt and hypocrisy, leaving everyone to ponder Gogol’s final irony—that hell is when you discover what people really think of you when you believed you were highly regarded.

Milwaukee Rep hosts The Government Inspector through Oct. 4.



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