Brian Jacobson

Government Inspector at Milwaukee Rep

By - Sep 14th, 2009 01:06 pm

Overflowing with gags and jokes, Inspector is a cavalcade that hits most of its marks

(Ivan) Gerard Nugent bewilders at (Anna) Deborah Staples in the Rep's production of <i>the Government Inspector</i>

(Ivan) Gerard Nugent bewilders at (Anna) Deborah Staples in the Rep’s production of the Government Inspector (photo by Jay Westhauser)

Show: Government Inspectorat the Milwaukee Repertory Theater
: 9/8 – 10/4
: 150 minutes (with one intermission)
Original author
: Nikolai Gogol
: Jeffrey Hatcher
Director: Joseph Hanreddy
: Gerard Neugent, Peter Silbert, Deborah Staples, Laura Gordon

Nikolai Gogol’s script, adapted here by well-known playwright Jeffrey Hatcher, is jam-packed with gags, jokes and hilarious exchanges. If Government Inspector was a sandwich, it would be a Dagwood – piled to the ceiling with ingredients. If the performance by the Rep’s Resident Acting Company and guest actors were one baseball player’s hitting average, it would be a mere .500.

This would still make them stars, better than most players out there. Each member of the 12-person ensemble adds professionalism and vaudevillian styling under Artistic Director Joseph Hanreddy’s guidance that is straight out of a Mel Brooks or Marx Brothers’ production. The only real quibble is in the delivery; so many great jokes fell flat because they lacked the necessary pause or inflection to make them funny.

A more madcap moment (photo by Torrey Hanson)

Inspector is all about corruption. Every character is proved capable of it or is engaged in it. When a town in pre-war Russia finds out that a government inspector is staying there incognito to make reports for the tsar on what is happening, the mayor and his staff connive to make the town seem respectable. Inevitably, they seek to root out and bribe the government spy.

Enter the seemingly dashing Ivan Alexandreyevich Hlestakov (Gerard Neugent), who is staying at the town’s inn and has been mistaken for the inspector by two incredibly goofy landowners (Steve Pickering and Drew Brhel) that make Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum look like scholars. Hlestakov is actually a goofy, lowly clerk who runs up gambling debts and is about to shoot himself when the mayor arrives and the farce begins.

Neugent as the mistook inspector is clearly the comedic star. He brings to the role shades of Martin Short, Gene Wilder and Mark Lynn Baker but still makes up a persona all his own. At his best, he steals the show with his delivery and added physical contortions. At his worst, he is left to chew the scenery and milks a gag – but those moments are still forgivable.


The truth is revealed and the characters ponder (photo by Jay Westhauser)

Other standouts include Laura Gordon as the Innkeeper’s Wife/Grusha/Locksmith’s Widow. The difference between her multiple roles is an off-stage shift in a costuming pillow from pregnant belly to pronounced backside to humpback. In each one, she brings a dry delivery and attitude that floors you every time.

Peter Silbert as the mayor is reasonably gruff and flustered. Deborah Staples as his wife (imagine a provocative version of Margaret Dumont in a Marx Brothers movie) does well but is perhaps too good-looking for a role where script jabs at her supposed-aging appearance, and the jokes miss the mark. Kathleen Romond as the Mayor’s daughter takes an interesting goth approach and uses youthful resentment to great comic aplomb. Among the mayor’s staff, Lee E. Ernest’s Postmaster has the funniest lines and delivery.

Inspector has some great sight gags as well: a spacious armoire joke, a well-used polar bear rug and even a strange pre-show moment involving the peasant serfs and a standard, modern-day stage announcement is very ha-ha. The stage is a fascinating and malleable old-school Viewmaster arrangement. The costumes are lavish, and a Hooked On Classics version of Prokofiev’s music adds to the madness. It’s hard to believe, as other news reports have pointed out, that this production and the Milwaukee Rep economized to make this play happen. This is a full-scale play with production and acting clout to boot — even with only half the funny being uproarious.

The Government Inspector continues its run at the Quadracci Powerhouse stage in the Baker Theater Complex in downtown Milwaukee now through October 4. For tickets, call the box office at 414-224-9097 or visit the Rep’s website for pricing and time details. You can always find a wide range of theater listings across Wisconsin and Chicago by visiting Footlights Magazine.

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