by Kelsey Carthew
This summer, Oded Gross’s adaptation of The Government Inspector will premiere on the Boston Court stage (in a co-production with Furious Theatre Company). The history of the original text written by Nikolai Gogol had a bumpy path, hitting some roadblocks here and there, but eventually becoming a staple of Russian literature. In coming up with the idea for The Government Inspector, Gogol was set on writing a satirical play that commented on imperial bureaucracy, but failed to write anything substantial at first due to fears of having his work censored. Eventually, Gogol wrote to his literary colleague, Russian poet and novelist Alexander Pushkin, in search of inspiration.
“Do me a favour; send me some subject, comical or not, but an authentically Russian anecdote. My hand is itching to write a comedy… Give me a subject and I’ll knock off a comedy in five acts – I promise, funnier than hell. For God’s sake, do it. My mind and stomach are both famished.”
~Letter from Gogol to Pushkin, October 7th 1835
In response to Gogol’s request, Pushkin shared one of his experiences when he once was mistaken to be a government inspector in a small Russian province. Gogol took that idea and ran with it, thus penning one of his most acclaimed works, The Government Inspector.
The Government Inspector, also known as The Inspector General, begins with the mayor of a small Russian town discovering that an undercover government inspector has arrived from St. Petersburg to investigate the corrupt actions of the officials of the city. When the mayor hears news that a mysterious man has been staying at the local inn for two weeks, he goes to investigate and meet him. Thus, he finds Khlestakov, an upper class brat with a wild imagination. The mayor believes Khelstakov to be the government inspector, and Khelstakov goes along for the ride. Thus the story of mistaken identity, corruption, greed, and tom-foolery takes off, culminating in a very striking climax and conclusion.
Published in 1836, Gogol’s play was met with both plenty of acclaim and outcry, and was very nearly not produced until Czar Nicholas I personally interceded and allowed production of the play. The Czar himself loved The Government Inspector, supposedly commenting that “Everybody gets it, and I most of all”. Gogol was shocked to find that the audiences of The Government Inspector to be a negative commentary on the tsarist regime, and he vehemently debunked those connections, for he was a big supporter of autocracy and serfdom. Eventually, due to his extremely sensitive nature over the backlash and misunderstanding of the messages intended of The Government Inspector, Gogol fled Russia and did not return to his homeland until 1841.
Over time, The Government Inspector has come to be recognized as one of Russia’s great literary works, and has been done, adapted, or spun-off many times over it’s almost 200 year-old history. Some of the most notable of these spin-offs include the 1949 musical comedy movie The Inspector General, a modern re-telling titled The UN Inspector at London’s National Theatre, and operatic renditions of Gogol’s timeless story. Now, this summer, we add Oded Gross’s adaptation to that list.
Previews for our production of The Government Inspector begin Thursday July 19th; click here for more information and tickets