Nikolai Gogol’s 1836 play, “The Government Inspector,” has been made into an intimate musical with updated references in this amusing but flawed world premiere of Oded Gross’ new adaptation at the Boston Court in Pasadena.
Gogol’s play is also known as “The Inspector General” and was the inspiration for a 1949 musical comedy movie that starred Danny Kaye. Directed by Henry Koster, the movie moved the action to the First French Empire and was a light-hearted tale about mistaken identities with a decidedly happy ending.
Gross’ version, under the direction of Stefan Novinski, has modern references to the Butterfinger candy bar, Scotch tape, Disney’s many princesses, and current socio-political situations, and the ending is somber. A group of actors standing in front of red and yellow vertically striped curtains sing about how “Life is not fair; that’s just a fact of it.” The town’s proudly corrupt bureaucracy is gradually introduced: Anton (John Billingsley), the mayor; Ivan (Joe Fria), the director of communications; Artemis (Alan Brooks), the director of health and Amos (Dana Kelly Jr.) the town’s judge.
The overweight Artemis has a German doctor (Jacob Sidney) who no one understands. Artemis loves wealthy landowner Alina (Sara Hennessy) who is a devote Christian. He confesses, “You taste like candy.” She replies, “You taste like Jesus.”
The mayor has a thin but ambitious wife, Anna (Shannon Holt), and an adopted daughter Marya (Megan Goodchild). Marya reads Grimms’ fairy tales, but only the ones where a princes rescues a damsel and not the frightening, grotesque ones. Like many dreamers, Marya fails to see that Ivan is in love with her.
A government inspector travels incognito to report on the local officials and the town’s officials decide the only stranger–a callous, but handsome Khlestakov (Adam Haas Hunter)–must be the inspector. Khlestakov takes advantage of the officials’ mistake, bilking them of money while his servant Osif (Eileen T’Kaye) attempts to dissuade him. Alina and Marya both see Khlestakov as an opportunity and trade and, at different times, fall into his carnal embrace.
The ending is much darker than the Danny Kaye movie so I won’t recommend it for children.
Opening night, the singing at the opening of each act was a little off-tune and there were a few flubbed lines. Gross takes on current day concerns about the religious right as well as the birth certificate issue. Alina notes that “unlike some of the leaders we’ve had, God was born in this country.”
And if something isn’t written in the Bible, it is at least “inferred.”
This smart, funny play could use a bit of polish and the timing may improve as the ensemble relaxes into this script. The play might not age gracefully with all the up-to-date references, but if you’re looking for a sharp critique of the political system we live under, this joint production by the Theatre@Boston Court and Furious Theatre Company of “The Government Inspector” is a hilarious piece well worth seeing.
“The Government Inspector” continues until August 26 at the Theatre@Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Sundays, 2 p.m. August 8 (Wednesday) understudy performance, 8 p.m. $29-$34. Call (626) 683-6883 or go to www.BostonCourt.com.