IF YOU GO
What: Fast-witted con artist outwits a bumbling mayor and town officials in 1830s Russia
When: 3:30 p.m. Thursday and 8 p.m. Friday
Where: 701 5th Avenue South, Naples
Information: 877-592-ARTS, artsnaplesworldfestival.org
Something else: Thursday's matinée will be followed by a free showcase of scenes and stage swordplay techniques.
On the Web: Sign up to receive more theater news from the Stage Door blog via email.
NAPLES — Corruption! Sing it to the tune of "Tradition" from "Fiddler on the Roof." Everybody now! Corruption! The mayors! Corruption! The doctors! Corruption! The judges! Corruption! The wives! Corruption! That's the hilarious theme of Nikolai Gogol's sharp, savvy satire "The Government Inspector."
An offering of the ArtsNaples World Festival, "The Government Inspector" plays two more dates, at 3:30 p.m. Thursday and 8 p.m. Friday at Sugden Community Theatre in downtown Naples. Thursday's matinée will be followed by a free showcase of scenes and stage swordplay techniques.
This year's ArtsNaples World Festival theme celebrates Russian culture; next year's will celebrate Latin America. For a complete listing of the remaining ArtsNaples World Festival events, go online to www.artsnaplesworldfestival.org.
The show is performed by the Regent University's Master of Fine Arts Theatre Class of 2012. Regent is a private Christian school based in Virginia Beach, Va. The production is not affiliated with the Naples Players.
Gogol published the play in 1836, poking fun at the extensive culture of political corruption in tsarist Russia. Spies lurked at every corner and bribes changed hands like germs in a kindergarten. Jeffrey Hatcher adapted this version. Purely as a function of the small cast size, a few lines and minor roles get cut and three female actors perform roles (schoolmaster, judge) that would have traditionally gone to men in 1830s Russia.
The play follows lay-about civil servant Hlestakov as he gets mistaken for an important government inspector by the mayor and important officials of a provincial Russian town. Will the real government inspector please stand up? The audience discovers his identity on the last line of the play; look for the subtle clues throughout the night.
The actors pounce on the silliness like children leaping into a playground pit filled with plastic balls. Director Scott Hayes creates a fast-paced, witty and charming vision out of the spiraling lies, dim-witted deceit and downright stupidity parading across the stage. Laughs fall faster than the rubles offered as bribes.
The show amuses from start to finish; if you've ever dealt with incompetent small-town bureaucracy, you can't help but laugh. Watching a snarky daughter insult her preening mother "...the blush is off the rose, and the rose is off the bush" makes it even better. Every line seems calculated to bring a giggle, snort or chuckle - especially as the audience is in on the joke from the very beginning.
Zachary Bortot and Britain Wilcox make comic hay out of bumbling bumpkins Bobchinsky and Dobchinsky. The pair match their speech patterns, cadence and even voices for a brilliantly funny first-act sequence as they stumble over each other to announce the news of the "inspector's" arrival. Watching them push, shove and fight for crumbs of power from the mayor - and then crown his head with a serving dish - brings to mind the best of the Three Stooges.
Jeff Fazakerley brings smart-aleck sass to his grandiose impostor. Watching him banter with wiser-than-thou servant Osip (a wonderfully sharp Ryan Clemens) during a "please kill me" suicide scene brings laughs. Nosy postmaster Nathaniel Fisher swans around the set with fey glee, pulling letters out of his bag, revealing secrets and tossing off bon mots.
Robert F. Wolin, who designed the magnificent sets for Florida Rep's "God of Carnage" and Gulfshore Playhouse's "A Streetcar Named Desire," creates a versatile arrangement for use here. Simple wooden frames sketch out doors, windows and a closet, with a stained glass crown over a double door. Panels at left and right rotate to create Hlestakov's simple hotel room with the aide of a drop-in.
Kathy Newell plucked most of the show's costumes out of professional rental stock in New York, yet she tells a gorgeous story. Vivid primary colors dominate, with Micaela De Lauro's wonderfully acidic Marya in a billowing lemon yellow that highlights the character's tart tongue and shows off the actress's delightfully droll facial expressions.
Amy Dunlap (Anna) wears feathers and an overwrought pink creation, while Mike Salsbury (Mayor) gets a rich purple and a huge silver chain of office. Look for the details, like calf-high boots, flat-fronted trousers, patterned vests and jackets that fasten high on the waist.
Sets, costumes and properties were all designed and assembled in various places. The program doesn't credit the entire team; all involved deserve congratulations for the professional look and feel of the production, especially as the show will only run for three performances.
Love comedy? Want to laugh? Like to see small-town mayors and their greedy cohorts get what's coming to them? Check out "The Government Inspector." Save your program - because you'll want proof that you saw these actors before they were famous.
■ For a complete listing of the remaining ArtsNaples World Festival events, go online to www.artsnaplesworldfestival.org.
I do not accept bribes. Unless we're talking Starbucks. Email me, email@example.com, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.