’The Government Inspector’ | Credit: UC Santa Barbara Theater/Dance
The UCSB Theater Department’s production of Jeffrey Hatcher’s adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s The Government Inspector revels in its stylish chaos. The characters, local community leaders in a small, Russian town, are understandably panicked: they’ve learned through the postmaster’s illegal reading of other people’s mail that a government inspector is coming, incognito, from the capital. Led by the mayor, they mistake a traveling rogue, Hlestakov, for the government inspector and begin wining and dining (and bribing) him to overlook their corruption. Hlestakov plays along and makes away with the Mayor’s stash of bribery money, while also convincing both the mayor’s wife and daughter that he plans to run away with them.
This play is very funny, and UCSB’s production is attractive and cleverly devised. Directed by Michael Bernard, the show boasts a zany, madcap energy that never falters, and some real acting talent and skill from the cast. Michael Seitz as Hlestakov is wonderfully self-absorbed in the most charming way possible, a charismatic scoundrel who gladly swindles the all-too-eager townspeople. Milo Marsden as the mayor pivots seamlessly between gleeful avarice and temper-tantrum-throwing buffoonery. Bernard says he was influenced in the creation of this production by the work of the Marx Brothers, and the homage is remarkable: it’s a fast-paced, falling-over-the-furniture, witty-banter extravaganza.
Another noteworthy aspect of this production is a very cool set (designed by Stephanie Kerley Schwartz), featuring an elaborate cardboard skyline whose flimsiness represents the unsubstantiality of this town’s unhinged power players. All in all, The Government Inspector is a satisfying satire that reminds us of humanity’s capacity for deceit and greed, while guaranteeing a good laugh at the characters’ (and our own) expense.