Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Review: (Vancouver) The Government Inspector

Great big buckets of fun
...and supremely, stylishly silly

by David C. Jones
The Government Inspector (sometimes known as The Inspector General) written in 1836 by Nikolai Gogol is an absurd comedy about greed and corruption in a small Russian town that gets thrown in a tizzy when they find out that an incognito Inspector is on his way.  
Studio 58 is the professional theatre training program at Langara College. They use professional directors and designers and the shows are performed by the 5th and 6th term acting students. This production also features a graduate and professional actor Joel Wirkkunen as part of the new Creative Collaboration program.
The style is so big and theatrical that the show is a little disconcerting at first – you aren’t sure what you are watching or how to watch it.
The ‘seemingly everywhere’ director David MacKay does an amazing job keeping the pace up and the performances grand and grotesque. There is also great desperation and want in the characters that makes them more rounded and deep.
The show opens with an accordion-wielding, hunched, dirty woman played with mischievous glee by Masea Day. She glares at and mocks us  - “You guys are cheaper than the gags in this show” is a typical line from her. Then the act one ‘beginners’ march in and when they hit their spots they pause then drop into the character bodies they will hold for the rest the show.
The style is so big and theatrical that the show is a little disconcerting at first – you aren’t sure what you are watching or how to watch it. But as the Mayor slams a hat box on his head, gun shots are fired wild, and a dozen or so people hide in a closet acting like it's a clown car – it’s shocking and silly and it gets funnier and funnier.
Mr. Mackay’s Buffoon-style is perfect for this play (adaptation by Jeffery Hatcher in 2008). Gogol has no heroes in this play and no real love story. Everyone is on the make and they let their negative qualities guide them. These are our basic instincts. Lessons are never learned and no one wins for long. The style fits the play's themes perfectly.
Pam Johnson has designed a fun set with surprises and clever adaptability for the small Studio space. Mara Gottler's costumes are wild layered absurdity with a foothold in plausibility given the time period and location of the setting.
The entire diverse cast rises to the occasion and each student crafts a detailed character - from the bodyguards to the leads. Aside from the cruelly funny work from Mr. Wirkkunen we have the scheming and electric wife Anna played by Stephanie Izsak, and continually abused sadsacks Dobchinsky and Bobchinsky played by Dallas Sauer and Jordan Jenkins who pop into mind as stand outs among pillars of greatness.
Tim W. Carlson plays Ivan Alexandreyevich Hlestakov, the liar who is mistaken for the Inspector. Trapped by his own excesses he can’t believe his good luck when the entire town starts bribing him. He becomes cocky and cruel and when filled with drink he even mocks and insults us – the ‘faceless masses’.
There are no heroes here just a lot of silly people who make us laugh and on some level make us worry that perhaps they are more relatable than we would like to acknowledge. Then another funny character enters and says another funny joke and we start to giggle and laugh again.

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