The good ol’ USA has never had a lock on corrupt, windbag politicians, as evidenced by Russian dramatist Nikolai Gogol’s The Government Inspector. Originally published in 1836, Gogol’s takedown of the dishonesty, greed and stupidity that runs rampant in government is considered by many to be one of the world’s greatest comedies.
Director Lisa Morse mounted a well-received production of American playwright Jeffrey Hatcher’s 2008 adaptation at College of Marin in 2017, and she and some of its cast return in the Ross Valley Players production running now through June 5.
The leaders of a small Russian town are in a tizzy with the word that a government inspector is coming to town with a secret agenda. The mayor (an apoplectic Steve Price) and his cabal of crooked community captains (Philip Goleman, Robert Molossi, Christopher Harney) make preparations to cover up their malfeasance (like spending government funds on building things that pad the pockets of relatives, like a school with six gymnasiums) when they’re led to believe that the inspector has already been there for a week.
A ne’er do well named Hlestekov (Michel B. Harris) is mistaken for the inspector, and he’s more than happy to accept the bribes that repeatedly come his way from the town’s denizens seeking a favorable report. If money won’t do it, perhaps the amorous advances of the mayor’s wife (Pamela Ciochetti) or daughter (Hunter Candrian-Velez) will. Hlestekov plays everyone against each other as greed and the instinct for self-preservation take hold.
Price’s pompous mayor, festooned with epaulets the size of theatre curtains, is the comedic center of the piece. The blustering buffoon always seems to be on the verge of a stroke as he senses the world he has built on bribes is crashing down. He’s given a comedic run for his money by Wood Lockhart, who slays with his slyly delivered quips as Hlestekov’s accommodating valet, Osip.
Harris does well as the duplicitous mountebank who’s more than happy to take advantage of the town’s troubles as a way out of his own.
There are plenty of laughs to be had in this production, but take heed of these words from Gogol’s original script: “What are you laughing about? You are laughing about yourselves!“
‘The Government Inspector’ runs through June 5 at the Barn Theatre in the Marin Art and Garden Center, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross. Thurs, 7:30pm; Fri. & Sat., 8pm, Sun., 2pm. $15–$30. 415.456.9555. rossvalleyplayers.com. Proof of vaccination and masking required to attend.