Government Inspector | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Government Inspector 

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The Government Inspector, Terrapin Theatre, at the Athenaeum Theatre. Nikolay Gogol's masterwork centers on a stranger who unintentionally exposes a town's corruption. Wrongly taken to be the title investigator, Saint Petersburg con artist Khlestakov is bribed by the corrupt inhabitants and even offered the mayor's daughter. In contrast to his past life, he and his wily valet now get to shake down the authorities.

The payback should be delicious despite Gogol's repetitious dialogue and distracting details. But notwithstanding a plucky cast of 14 ready to give their all to get our laughs, Brad Nelson Winters's revival is never sufficiently engaging: the villagers aren't made odious enough to deserve their comeuppance, and the "hero" lacks a true impostor's supple twists. It's clever to cast the show's lone African-American actor as outsider Khlestakov, but Clay Calvin doesn't seem to relish sticking it to these pompous provincials. And why does Richard Richards as Khlestakov's manservant sport a Welsh accent, unless it's because no one told him not to?

The performances, especially Randall Gary Craig's as the blowhard mayor, suffer from sloppy timing and delivery, a torpid pace (Terrapin indeed!), and shtick unmotivated by character. Worst is the tentativeness with which these Daumier-like caricatures are conveyed. Additional performances might make this halfhearted 150-minute effort brisker and funnier, but only if Winters's ensemble avoid easy choices and stereotypes and aim for surprise.

--Lawrence Bommer

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