Friday, March 28, 2008

"The Government Inspector": ☼ ☼ ☼ baub

It's very funny, it's timely and it's only 172 years old. Nikolai Gogol's "The Government Inspector" is a satire on government, the relationship between the distant capital and the heartland, and a study of what can happen to good judgement when bureaucrats are afraid of getting caught with their hands in the cookie jar.

Don't judge the production by the first fifteen minutes, which, with all its topsy turvy sets and slapstick dialogue seems staged and artificial; once Gregory Wallace hits the stage as the most fortunate Khlestakov, we are all in for a wild ride which does not diminish until the final curtain. Khlestakov is a petty bureaucrat from the national capital of Petersburg who has stopped in a small town for the night, on his way to a neighboring village where he can beg his father for more money. But he cannot leave the inn because he has run out of funds to pay the bill.

It just so happens that at that moment the Mayor of the town (Graham Beckel) has heard that a very important government inspector is on his way to the town. That inspector will uncover all the dirty doings of the town's leaders, unless these leaders can manage to bribe him with praise, favors and plenty of cash. Once Khlestakov is mistaken for the we go.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ baub

The San Francisco Theater blog Awards Division awards "The Government Inspector" a star and a half for Gregory Wallace, all by himself. We have enjoyed him in many previous roles, but as Khlestakov Wallace allows us to watch his entire transformation from debt-ridden fey dandy from the big city to a big-enough fish in a small, slightly polluted pond. Once he discovers there is ample money and praise available, he is more than happy to swim out to get it.

Another half a star goes out for Graham Beckel's Mayor. He walks, talks and philosophizes a little too much like Tevye, but he earns half a star for reminding us we are not watching Fiddler on the Roof. There is no nostalgia for a lost world here, only the rude realization that life is not so different in the new world as in the old.

A half star is for Beaver Bauer's voluminous coats -- sometimes you're not sure there's an actor in there, just a coat, a hat and klunky boots; the last half star is for the priceless bribery scene, where all the big wigs in town line up to pay off the man they think is the inspector. How did Gogol know so much about us, anyway?

We must add one Bauble of Despair: the Snore of Death that continues during the entire intermission. Maybe that's why they decided to serve shots of vodka in the lobby. Turn it down, please, or you'd better keep pouring the vodka.

The Government Inspector
American Conservatory Theater
405 Geary Street, San Francisco
Tue-Sun through April 20; $17-$82

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