The Government Inspector
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Theater review by Adam Feldman
A play that depicts a politician as a greedy, vindictive, incompetent boob desperate to ingratiate himself to the leader of Russia? Admittedly, The Government Inspector may no longer sound like comedy. But humor is doled out generously in Red Bull Theater’s diverting production of Nikolai Gogol’s 1836 satire, zippily adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher. The ebullient Michael Urie plays Hlestakov, a foppish layabout and gambler who is mistaken for a powerful agent of the Tsar by the population of a provincial Russian burg. Showered with rubles by local rubes—led by a doltish mayor (Michael McGrath, in full Nathan Lane–style huff)—Hlestakov hardly understands his luck, but happily takes the gullible hicks for all they’re worth and more.
Alexis Distler’s bi-level set, broad on the top tier and split in two at the bottom, evokes a cartoon in the Sunday funny papers, and Jesse Berger’s talented cast of 14 commits hard to fill out its panels. (Standouts include the ripe Mary Testa as the mayor’s rapacious wife, Stephen DeRosa as a conniving hospital director and Arnie Burton as a gossipy postmaster.) Although the play’s lampoon of corruption is wide-ranging, it is tempered by the jovial spirit of farce, which feels like a mercy. There’s a lot to be said for shouting, but sometimes you just need to laugh.
Duke on 42nd Street (Off Broadway). By Nikolai Gogol. Adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher. Directed by Jesse Berger. With Michael Urie, Michael McGrath, Mary Testa, Arnie Burton. Running time: 2hrs. One intermission. Through June 24.
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