Theater review: The Government Inspector

Photo by Missy Bell

Just in time for election season, Anam Cara Theatre Company’s production of The Government Inspector has hit the stage at Toy Boat Community Arts Space. The play, a highly entertaining comedy-of-errors, is an adaptation of a 19th century Russian satire by Nicholi Gogol. Peter Lundblad and Rachel McCrain co-direct the fast-paced spectacle of paranoia, political ineptitude, and corruption, with shows running Thursday and Friday, March 17 and 18.

When the crooked officers of a small Russian village learn that an incognito investigator may be in town, a series of assumptions and misunderstandings leads them to mistaking a ne’er-do-well traveler named Hlestakov for the spy in their midst. In truth, Hlestakov is a low-level civil servant from St. Petersburg, but he is more than willing to play along and accept whatever bribes might come his way, despite countless declarations that he is about to change his ways.

The cast filled the room with energy as they exchanged mile-a-minute banter, while at the same time keeping the audience informed of the potentially confusing plot-twists. The comedic timing of the show was impeccable, with noteworthy performances by Ryan Madden, playing the unscrupulous and anxiety-ridden mayor, and Marlene Thompson, playing Anna, the mayor’s flirtatious and forward wife. Madden, Thompson and the rest of the cast combined witty dialogue and slapstick humor into a Marx Brothers-like blend of comedy that had the audience laughing out loud through the entire performance.

Two crowd favorites were the twins, Bobchinsky and Dobchinsky, played by Tony Antinora and Dakota Mann, respectively. Dressed identically, Antinora and Mann were hilarious as they interrupted each other, finished each other’s sentences, and slammed their noses in doors. They also started the rumor about Hlestakov being the government inspector in the first place, causing the entire chain of events.

Set decoration was sparse — a desk, a faux-bear-skin rug and two freestanding doors were rearranged to convey different rooms. Despite the fact that Toy Boat has a stage, the play was performed in a theater-in-the-round style, in the center of the room, with the audience surrounding the actors on all sides. This helped contribute to the energy of the production, as actors would arrive onstage from multiple directions, often tossing hilarious (sometimes ad-libbed) asides at the audience as they entered and exited. The sparse set and simple costumes also went a long way in helping convey an impoverished town where the leaders are more interested in lining their own pockets than taking care of the citizens.

In some ways The Government Inspector is like an episode of “Seinfeld” or “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” in that there is no protagonist. If any of the characters feel remorse, it is because they are afraid they are about to be caught. If they do something kind, it’s not without an ulterior motive. This can make for a big challenge because, with no hero to root for, the entertainment of the audience hinges on the ability of the actors to bring their characters to life. The cast members must strive to make the audience relish their inevitable comeuppance as they flail their arms and try to succeed. With a few props and a lot of local talent, Anam Cara’s production of The Government Inspector succeeds in accomplishing this with ease.

WHAT: Anam Cara Theatre Company stages The Government Inspector

WHERE: Toy Boat Community Arts Space, facebook.com/ToyBoatCommunityArtSpace

WHEN: Thursday and Friday, March 17 and 18, at 8 p.m. $15 advance/$18 at the door.

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