LA Review: 'The Government Inspector'

The Theatre @ Boston Court and Furious Theatre Company at Boston Court Performing Arts Center

Reviewed by Travis Michael Holder

July 31, 2012


Photo by Ed Krieger
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.

Anton (John Billingsley), the mayor of the unnamed and conspicuously era-deprived township, enjoys the plunder of his shady administration along with his cohorts Ivan (Joe Fria), Artemis (Alan Brooks), and Amos (Dana Kelly Jr.). Their district has been hit hard by a recession, but these guys believe you can't lead people without being a "little corrupt" and that anyone who says otherwise has never been in government. They lounge around Anton's impressively appointed mansion, which scenic designer Donna Marquet has loaded with enough eclectic and colorful accoutrements—lorded over by portraits of czarist generals whose faces have been replaced by pop icons, from David Bowie to William Shatner to Steve Jobs—to make it resemble a high-end version of Pee-wee's Playhouse, something brilliantly echoed by Tina Haatainen-Jones' delightfully whimsical costumes and Steven Young's inspired lighting.

As with Gogol's original, which so boldly satirized czarist Russia in 1836 that the playwright fled the country for five years, Gross has taken on the manifest absurdity of our current political situation without filter. His script makes sly innuendoes about the 99 percent of disgruntled villagers hovering outside the mansion and has the story's appropriately stone-faced politicians deliver gems such as "Whoever thought misquoting the Bible would serve so well in government agenda?" and "Before I entered the justice system I taught acting to underprivileged children."

Gross has a unique ability to produce dialogue that can elicit audible howls, groans, and on one well-deserved occasion even an appreciative collective hiss. Superb physical comedian Fria stands out as the dorky Ivan, perfectly complemented by Kelly's woebegone judge and Brooks' elaborately underplayed but physically well-padded Artemis, who only is sparked to a zealous opinion if the subject is food. Even when his born-again paramour Alina (Sara Hennessy) moves in for a passionate kiss, all Artemis can say is "You taste like candy," to which she responds "You taste like Jesus."

The impossibly tall and lanky Hunter is a major asset as Khlestakov, offering a grandly unapologetic effeteness that's countered by the pintsize Eileen T'Kaye's acerbic, long-suffering servant Osif. Megan Goodchild is also a standout, as Anton's comely daughter Marya, as is Jacob Sidney, playing a German-speaking doctor who has a secret to share. Only Billingsley and Shannon Holt, as Anton's shrewish wife, Anna, are slightly off from the rhythms and comic stylings of the others, trying a bit too hard.

The best thing about this production is Gross' world-class script, which keeps the audience exactly where the purveyors of Boston Court ask them to be during the pre-show speech, inviting those gathered to "come to the edge of your seat, lean in, and enjoy."

Presented by the Theatre @ Boston Court and Furious Theatre Company at Boston Court Performing Arts Center, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena. July 28–Aug. 26. Thu.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (Additional performances Wed., Aug. 8 and 22, 8 p.m., and Mon., Aug. 6, 8 p.m.) (626) 683-6883 or www.bostoncourt.org. Casting by Raul Staggs.
 

 
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