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The Government Inspector: A Comedy Classic Classically Rendered

In The Government Inspector, an opportunistic itinerant is incorrect identified as a secret government inspector by a bumbling bunch of bureaucrats in the muddy interior of the Russian Empire. Chaos ensues.

When it was first performed in 1836, Nikolai Gogol’s play was so controversial that the Czar had to intercede on the play’s behalf. At Stern College’s recent performance, it’s clear that the play has lost its poignant historical satire of graft and greed. But what remains is humor—lots and lots of humor.  Corrupt officials, shameless women, lily-livered landlords led by a mayor scampering to hide the town’s abysmal state of affairs are the prime ingredients for this play. Add a dash of wacky antics, a colorful supporting cast, and women in outrageous wigs and waxed mustaches and you’ve guaranteed endless laughs.

When Mayor Antonovich (Hannah Dreyfus) hears word of this inspector (Danielle Penn) from the nosy postmaster (Arielle Katz), his entire world flashes before him as he visualizes his crooked kingdom crumble before suffering exile to Siberia. The mayor’s fears are shared with his cabinet. The judge (Esti Schwartz), who takes kickbacks in rubles only, the school principal (Sharona Kay), who renders straight A’s to the children of donors, the hospital director (Sarah Kind), who just completed a clinic too small to fit beds, and his nitwit sidekick, the chief of medicine (Malka Sigal) are all terrified of the consequences to their small and rather absurdly run town.

When it becomes abundantly clear that no amount of effort can clean up the town in time, bribes and brown envelopes are assembled to placate a man they hope is amiable to backhanded businesses. Misunderstandings lead to overly friendly dealings. Soon, the inspector (Danielle Penn) realizes he’s got an opportunity to cash in on this oblivious town and proceeds to take advantage of the town’s gullible officials. He starts collecting “loans” from every official in the town. The mayor serves the inspector a variety of intoxicating concoctions in attempt to pry information, but instead of loosening his tongue, the sloshed inspector fabricates ever-wilder stories of political, literary and artistic prowess. The town’s people believe every word of his dramatic address until it ends with the inspector passing out on the floor—absolutely plastered.

By the time the bogus inspector collects his cash and runs, the town is turned upside-down, the mayor is in ruins, and the bureaucrats are in for a rather unexpected surprise.

In her first performance at Stern College, sophomore Danielle Penn manages to execute an impeccable performance requiring an immense amount of quirkiness. As the government inspector incognito, her lanky movements come in handy in her memorable long-winded drunken monologue. Penn was given the toughest assignment—to play an unprincipled, indebted, rambling vagabond in a variety of moods—and she hits it out of the park.

She is of course not acting in alone. A collaboration of Stern College’s most talented actresses were assembled for the performance. Junior Hannah Dreyfus adeptly plays the pompous, prickly mayor and manages to externalize the mayor’s inner feelings in not-so-subtle eye darts and over-the-top shenanigans.  Smaller parts were performed equally well. Senior Chaya Weissman’s rendition of the curmudgeonly maid is perfectly played from a fairy tale playbook. Leah Gottfried, as the mayor’s bored and sexually unsatisfied wife, manages to pull off outlandish and dreadful at the same time. Two ever-present lumbering landlords (Kayla Miller and Helene Sonenberg), the tweedledee and tweedledum of the play, add a splash of hilarious repartee to almost every scene.

Sadly, an underwhelmingly unadorned set in an undignified location (Koch Hall) lent the play an unpolished finish. In addition, the mostly monochromatic costumes and ridiculous makeup gave the play a sloppy feel. A higher-level attention to the set and outfits would have made the performance impress, not simply entertain. Indeed, the rendition stays safely attached to its original time-period of Tsarist Russia, missing an opportunity to season the play by lampooning our age of the Koch brothers and Citizens United. Additionally, the momentum and zaniness of the performance prevents the audience from dwelling on the disheartening civil lessons of Godol’s play. While the production lacks the political pungency and bite of satire, it was clearly geared towards fun before finals. And fun it delivered.