Review: The Government Inspector by Mary Moody Northen Theatre
by Michael Meigs
Nikolai Gogol was only 25 when The Government Inspector was presented and published, and he'd already made a reputation for himself as a writer of short stories and the historical romance Taras Bulba, set in the Cossack region of his origins. Gogol had also proved an ignorant disaster when appointed professor of medieval history at the University of St. Petersburg. A romantic fleeing from his modest origins among the petty nobility of the Ukraine, he'd made influential friends in the Russian capital and had every reason to mock the corruption of petty provincial towns. The poet Alexander Pushkin is said to have suggested the subject of The Government Inspector, in which a discharged government clerk is mistaken in a provincial backwater for an inspector from the imperial authorities. Something similar happened to Pushkin in 1833. Seizing upon the notion, Gogol satirized the ineptitude and corruption of municipal officials. Ironically, the play was mistaken by some as a satire of the czarist government (Gogol had started a play on that theme in 1832 but had abandoned it for fear of censorship). Gogol's new comedy was staged only after an intimate of Czar Nicholas persuaded Russia's ruler to support it. The Czar attended the first performance, laughed and applauded, and said, "Everyone gets it, I most of all."
It's easy to imagine the protagonist as an avatar of Gogol himself. Hlestakov the penniless clerk staying with his manservant in a provincial inn is mistaken for an agent sent to get the goods on the authorities of the town. And not surprisingly there are lots of goods for an inspector to get. In the opening scene Michael Stuart as the pompous mayor hears for the first time the rumor about an inspector, and he seems to be the last to know about it. No Austin City Council meeting can ever have been nearly as agitated and confusing as his excited discussions with the judge, the school principal, the hospital director and the chief of police. Townspeople and the Tweedledum-Tweedledee landowners Dobchinsky and Bobchinsky (Victoria Ann Jimenez and Trey Stoker) come running with their own wild suppositions, presented as facts. The authorities decide to resort severally and individually to their most familiar arm of self defense, the casual bribe tucked discreetly into the visitor's pocket.
The large cast is vividly well costumed by Mercedes O'Bannion.
Michael Stuart harumphs and mugs as well as anyone in town, although in truth he's an actor of considerable scope and skill. He's entirely at home here as a tall awkward figure doing his inept best to intimidate the St. Ed's students successfully portraying municipal officials used to feeding at the communal trough. Meredith McCall appears as Anna Andryevna, the mayor's estranged and perpetually annoyed wife, and the pert Cheyenne Barton is his snippy daughter, a bookworm without much depth or imagination.
Jeffrey Mills as Hlestakov is the dapper and astounded protagonist of the piece. Like Stuart, he's a St. Ed's alumnus and a much appreciated participant in Austin theatre. We encounter Hlestikov at the inn. After a disastrous run of cards has left him deeply in debt, he's ready to do himself in but can't quite manage it. His manservant Osip (Jordan Mersberger), fed up with such theatrics, offers to assist him, but before the dour and practical valet can straighten things out, the mayor comes calling. Anyone enjoys being flattered, invited and given cash, and Hlestakov quickly forgets about his recent despair. He's delighted to be invited to lodge with the mayor's family.
Jeffrey Hatcher's adaptation of this classic comedy reels out smoothly under Michelle Polgar's direction, and there's nary a snag to be found. All of the town's characters are stereotypes of self-importance, ripe for deflating. In the busy and buoyant action Gogol and Hatcher puncture them deftly and often. We're brought to cheer for Mills as Hlestikov as he rapidly adapts to his inexplicable change of status and fortune. He'll wager with Osip over his prospects for wooing both the wife and the daughter of the mayor.
In The Government Inspector Hlestikov the appealing rascal succeeds in the con game that was thrust upon him. He catches the stage out of town, with the intention of devoting himself to literature. Gogol's concluding scene has the postmaster (who reads everyone's mail) informing the appalled assembly of Hlestikov's comments about them just before a gendarme announces that the real government inspector has just arrived.
Hatcher does him one better: The real inspector general has been right there with them the whole time!
February 11 - February 21, 2016
3001 S Congress Ave
Austin, TX, 78704
All performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays – Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sunday.
Mary Moody Northen Theatre is located at the St. Edward’s University Campus along Campus drive. For a campus map, go to http://www.stedwards.edu/map/maincampus.
WHERE: Mary Moody Northen Theatre
St. Edward’s University
3001 S. Congress Avenue
Austin, TX 78704
TICKETS: $24 Adult ($18 Students, Seniors, St. Edward’s community)
MMNT Box Office: 512-448-8484
Box Office Hours are 1-5 p.m. Monday- Friday
Student discount night February 12: $8 with Student ID