A small Russian town in which bribes are standard operating procedure receives horrible news: a government inspector, traveling incognito, will soon arrive. Can the mayor, the judge, the hospital director, the postmaster, and other residents hide their corruption, roll out the red carpet for the inspector, and receive a rave review from this representative of the czar?
That’s the premise of The Government Inspector, a comedy from Independent Players that features a cast of 15 from Crystal Lake, Elgin, and other northwest suburbs. The play, originally published all the way back in the 1830s by Russian/Ukrainian playwright Nikolai Gogol, was adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher in 2008; it’s that version – in English, not Russian, by the way – that director Don Haefliger is now staging at The Professional Building through March 21.
The mayor, played by frequent Independent Players actor Gabor Mark, may be the greedy buffoon with the most power, but he’s not the only idiot who takes advantage of “unlicensed entrepreneurial spirit” (a.k.a. bribes). The school principal (Nicole Netsen), for example, has huge athletic facilities but very limited classrooms. The rooms at the hospital were built to be so small that no adult could fit in them, forcing the mayor to order the hospital director (Bridget Belcastro) to temporarily place all kindergarteners in the beds.
When Bobchinsky (Steve Delaney) and Dobchinsky (Rick Johnson) – two locals with perhaps one total brain between them – arrive at the mayor’s house, they’re sure they’ve identified the government inspector at the local inn. They say he’s a guest who’s been staying there for a week. (The always-in-the-know Postmaster [Regina Belt-Daniels], who opens every letter before it’s delivered, says the notice about an inspector visit may have arrived weeks ago: “We had a backlog.”) The mayor and his colleagues head to the inn.
Before they arrive, the audience meets Hlestakov, the guest – and possibly incognito inspector? – whose luck putting his food and lodging on credit is about to run out. His most recent, and perhaps final, meal includes various cabbage dishes; the soup, he asks the waitress, must surely be chicken soup, not cabbage, because there are still some feathers visible.
The deadpan response: “The rats in the kitchen like to wear feathers.” Played with gleeful gusto by Steve Connell (a Crystal Lake actor who’s appeared in 10 other Independent Players shows), Hlestakov is, in fact, a ne’er-do-well who’s broke and threatened to shoot himself a short while earlier.
His wise and wise-cracking servant, Osip (Jim Pierce), when asked if suicide is a coward’s way out, offers to be the one to fire the gun at Hlestakov. Ultimately, bullet holes end up in the wall, not in Hlestakov.
Hlestakov is all too willing to accept money, food, and better lodgings (the mayor’s own home!) from the mayor, even if he doesn’t know why he’s being treated so nicely. The mayor’s wife (Dana Udelhoven) is eager to bribe the charming Hlestakov with her affections; her daughter (Katrina Syrris) is more into books than into Hlestakov; the judge (Trace Gamache) is only accustomed to receiving bribes, not giving them, but is willing to change.
You may think the above outlines the entire plot – it doesn’t. If you’re listening closely to the dialogue, you’ll be chuckling a lot (e.g., “Put out the crystal spittoon!”). And you’ll be secretly hoping Hlestakov can swindle the town and get away with it.
To this reviewer, the only items that distracted from the enjoyment: a set that was a bit too minimalistic for the mayor’s home (although a framed portrait of the mayor in uniform was well done); doors being inexplicably left open when characters exited; and the lack of an across-the-board decision on whether these characters would have Russian accents or not.
In general, though, The Government Inspector itself passes inspection. But since it closes on the 21st, you’d better be “Russian” to get tickets.
• Paul Lockwood is an enthusiastic singer, frequent local theater actor, Grace Lutheran Church (Woodstock) and Toastmasters member, occasional theater reviewer, and past president of TownSquare Players. Recent shows include Morning’s at Seven, 42nd Street, Once Upon a Mattress, and On Golden Pond.