Friday, November 14, 2008

*The Government Inspector* at SFCC

through Nov. 16 at the Spartan Theater, Bldg. 5, SFCC
directed by William Marlowe
Friday-Saturday at 7:30 pm; Sunday at 2 pm (get in for $2 and two cans of food)
A play about political corruption is always timely. For this particular version of Maxim Gogol's 1836 play director William Marlowe has the assistance of Daniel Varavin, who was born in Uzbekistan, has lived in Moscow and acted in two Russian-language productions of this same play.
Marlowe has devised a wonderful pile-out-of-the-trunk, clowns-in-a-compact-car kind of opening to create a commedia dell-arte, improvisational feel to this farcical play. Sometimes the farce feels overdone and strained, but the cast also gets a great deal right.
Marlowe has borrowed a large revolve, intended for the never-was ARt production of *Doubt,* for this show, allowing him to parade characters along the front edge of the stage while interior and exterior scenes are being swapped.
As with many college productions, the talent is concentrated in the lead roles. As the Mayor, Brandon Montang showed great range: hysteria, deviousness, hauteur, befuddlement. He needed to be over-the-top in his final tantrum and was. As the wisecracking servant, Joe Pekala (a North Central product) was an unsightly beanpole (tall and in a comically delightful, godawful plaid suit); he captured the comedy by not overdoing it and by keeping a modicum of wisdom underneath the smart-ass exterior. And as Khlestakov, the tatterdemalion joy-boy who lucks into a situation where everyone seems deluded into thinking that he's an important and influential government official (and then greedily capitalizes on it), Chad Herrmann has great energy and ne'er-do-well spirit. He's exasperated but thinking ahead, at first unsure of himself but then quickly evolves into a con man without conscience.
Put it this way: Bobo would love to see any of these three guys onstage again. They're good.
In general, the cast does too much comic mugging. Better to treat the absurd situations as serious.
The twins (Jeremiah Hatch as Bobchinsky, Andrew Parish as Dobchinsky), both disguised in Groucho Marx glasses and schnozzes, accomplished some clever physical comedy. Even better, they blended timidity and arrogance -- they showed us the real people underneath the manic exteriors.
*Govt. Inspector* is too much a one-joke play: We get one over-awed citizen after another (ooh, be nice to the big, bad bureaucrat -- be sure to bribe him, too), and the joke can get tiring. Some visual gags are overdone (sneezing into an ear-trumpet, comic double-takes milked to the max and then beyond).
Bobo learned from watching this how voice is even more important than appearance in the theater: Several cast members slurred phrases and had poor diction. In contrast, others had distinctive, even booming voices. If you can't be heard, the play falls apart ...
Tonally, this is a difficult play: jokey setups with serious consequences. The SFCC cast didn't always attain this difficult balance. Gogol was after govt. corruption, but also the ways in which we live in denial about ourselves.
The long Russian names are a stumbling block. Bobo kept thinking, this has a lawless, Wild West feel to it -- why not produce it among the tumbleweeds and give everyone names like Marshall Dillon and Miss Kitty, just to plug into recognizable types?
SFCC's *Govt. Inspector* has its dry spells and many tedious jokes, but it also has a boffo opener, a great (and justly famous) freeze-frame at the very end, and several strong performances, all augmented by better-than-average (for comm. college) costumes and sets.
You have three chances left to see this show; it closes Sunday afternoon, Nov. 16, at 2 pm.

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