THE GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR: Review Rundown

Often attempted and rendered badly (most familiarly as a toothless Danny Kaye 1949 film musical), Nikolai Gogol’s comedy about an opportunistic vagabond mistaken by venal town officials for an inspector general — sent from St. Petersburg to expose their corruption — makes a sturdy template for a resolutely farcical treatment festooned with topical immediacy. Pasadena’s premiere developers of new work, The Theatre @ Boston Court and Furious Theatre Company (late of residence at the Carrie Hamilton space upstairs from the Pasadena Playhouse), have joined forces in a production that manages to blend the high polish characteristic of the former with the scrappiness of the latter into a heady entertainment.

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The new co-production of the show by Furious Theatre Company and Theatre@Boston Court adds to the riches with a truly amazing ensemble that provides some of the finest comedic acting one might see all year.

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CRITIC’S PICK: As fired government clerk Khlestakov (Adam Haas Hunter) reaps considerable rewards from a small town’s dishonest leaders, who’ve mistaken him for a government inspector assigned to investigate them, he decides to pad his coffers further by threatening to write a play exposing the administration. “This will be a wonderful day for the world of theater,” Khlestakov conjectures. That could also apply to the day on which the two theater companies responsible for this world premiere—the Theatre @ Boston Court and Furious Theatre Company, at the suggestion of director Stefan Novinski—approached Oded Gross to adapt Nikolai Gogol’s 19th-century Russian farce “The Inspector General” to rouse a modern audience.

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GO! Furious Theatre Company and Theatre @ Boston Court have teamed up to co-produce Oded Gross’ world-premiere adaptation, which upends and inverts huge swaths of Gogol’s play while miraculously ensnaring its essence. The result is a political parable and ribald cartoon groomed for this election cycle, and a production, staged by Stefan Novinski, that sustains a gentle, physically colorful and flippant farce with almost unwavering comic expertise by the ensemble.

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Indeed, if there is any down side to this piece it may be the distance created by the height of the absurdity of it all. The whole thing is so over the top it is possible to nod and smile and detach from what is a very pointed calling out of modern government, the selfishness of our culture, and the effects of monetary and social privilege. Gogol was holding up a mirror, and Gross and Novinsky have turned the mirror toward us. In the midst of the humor, the trick is not to be so dazzled by the reflection we don’t see ourselves.

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One percenters, hide those offshore accounts: Occupy LA — or something a lot like it—has been spotted at the Boston Court Performing Arts Center.  The corruption of the privileged few is the comic target of Nikolai Gogol’s “The Government Inspector,” now in an exuberant if overstated new adaptation by Oded Gross.

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The Boston Court Theatre and the Furious Theatre Company seem to have a knack for finding wonderful casts. Like some sort of theatrical mixologist, director Stefan Novinski blends a great cocktail from the talents of Billingsley as whirling a dervish as Groucho’s Otis B. Driftwood; Holt as determined a cougar as Kim Cattrall; Brooks as fatuous as “The Big Lebowski”’s Walter Sobchak; Hunter as flakey as any Adam Sandler character; T’Kaye as clear-headed as Meryl Streep’s Margaret Thatcher; and Sidney as snooty as Arte Johnson’s WWII German soldier

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Under Novinski’s direction, the acting is heightened, commedia but not distractingly so, too sophisticated to wink at the audience but somehow inviting us in on the joke. Corruption might not be a hilarious topic on its own, but humankind’s ability to spoof it lives in good health here.

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It’s based on the Russian satirical classic by Nikolai Gogol and it’s an archetype of mistaken identity and government corruption.  In the opening scene we meet a cabal of corrupt officials in a provincial Russian town.  The mayor is terrified: there’s gossip that an incognito Inspector General from St. Petersburg is coming to their small hamlet to root out their misdeeds.  Word comes to them that a guest at the inn is racking up charges and refuses to pay his bill.  Comically, the mayor concludes “There are only two types of people that don’t pay their bill. Those that can’t. . . .And those that don’t need to.”  They falsely decide this guest is surely the inspector and, as they say – hilarity ensues.

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The outstanding work done here should not go in vain.  Furious and Boston Court are on a very short list of exciting companies doing consistently daring and excellent work.  Everyone connected with this production should be proud, and the show should be seen.

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