IF YOU GO
"The Government Inspector" will run April 4-7 & 10-13 at 8 p.m. with matinée performances on Sunday and Wednesday at 2 p.m. at the Edison State College Black Box (L119-B). Tickets are $5 for students and $10 for adults and available online at: brownpapertickets.com /event/332375.
Hey, Stu? The kids are alright. In fact, they're pretty darn good.
Students (and one professor) at Edison State College delivered a giddy, effervescent production of "The Government Inspector" on a cold, wet, rainy Thursday. It isn't perfect. At least not yet. By the time you get a ticket, it may well be. The show delights to no end, ranking among the season's handful of truly top-notch comedies. Go. And try to guess who the real government inspector might be.
"The Government Inspector" tells of a provincial Russian village with a corrupt mayor, his slinky wife and their sexpot daughter, an incompetent professional class and the types of good, honest, sturdy, ignorant farmers found only on stage. The sly postmaster intercepts letters warning of an official from St. Petersburg touring the hinterlands. Minor clerk, major nobody and nobody's fool Ivan Hlestakov stumbles through the inn and is mistaken for the inspector. Chaos ensues.
Edison professor Stuart Brown directs the show, the culmination of spring classes in performance, set-building and others. Brown designed the Marc Chagall-inspired set, but students built it and produced the show. Students also designed the costumes, ran the lights, sound and ticketing operations, hunted down props and more.
And on top of all that, the actors delivered a marvelous performance.
I love an intimate black box space like Edison's, especially when a show catches fire, as "Government Inspector" did Thursday. There's something otherworldly in the way that first peal of laughter sparks a tiny bit of theater magic. The actors light up on stage.
Suddenly, the space contracts. You're not just watching the show, you're part of it, you're participating in it, you're delivering the jokes and feeling the laughs along with the actors and you want to talk back to them at times. That's what it's like when a show snatches the crowd up with it and sets the night aloft on a grand, glorious ride.
The magic touches the entire ensemble, from Steven Coe's mustachioed, feral, foppish Hlestakov to Rose Thomas's piteous villager. Each performance seems better than the last, the cast off and running like a troika pulled by six fast horses, bounding through a snowy landscape with the audience tucked up under a pile of warm blankets, quaffing vodka by the quart and screaming folk songs at the top of our lungs in Russian.
Now, don't forget, these are students, some of them inexperienced and raw. The ride can be a bit bumpy - but a few dropped lines, stumbles or stubborn props pale in comparison to the moments of sublime genius. Some force the cast to wait for laugh lines in places no one had told them to even remotely expect. Consider Coe and Ali Hooks trading barbs and innuendos over a gun. "My pistol." / "Not only is it hard … it seems to be cocked!"
So, basically, it was a fun and funny night. Brown convinces his students of the essential farcical nature of the show - and they succeed in creating bold, vivid portraits of corrupt Russian townsfolk.
Make a note of Coe. His woebegone hipster trickster Hlestakov delights, from a sad-eyed contemplation of suicide to a twin seduction of mayor's wife and daughter. I especially like that he wasn't afraid to committ to the role's naughty double-speak, leering asides and sometimes hyperactive physicality.
Towering, statuesque Hooks makes a bid to steal the show as venal, corrupt and entirely sex-crazed mayoral wife Anna Andreyevna. Don't believe her bio - Hooks was born to act; her screeching harpy of a wife and mother delivers the show's biggest comedic punch. Wearing an enormous beehive that adds another foot to her height, she seems an empress surveying the stage - until she coyly lifts her skirt to reveal a pink garter. Ditch the odd padded costume.
Each member of the large ensemble deserves mention; space precludes it. But do look for Christina Carrieri (Dobchinsky) and Tasha Petrik (Bobchinsky) as rotund sources of amusement; their double act pops up perfectly timed, genuinely spirited and wonderfully amusing.
Find Destiny O'Leary's overly dramatic postmistress hiding behind a messenger bag; I love the character's saucy attitude. Jessica De Marco brings sass to serving maid Grusha. Freshman Brandon Gamez, in his collegiate debut, impresses as the town's overblown, self-important mayor.
The single greatest scene - and one that demonstrates how completely Brown's students understand his teaching - happens when the townspeople get Coe's Hlestakov very, very drunk. As he starts ranting about the czar, they cower, first behind each other, then slowly backing to the rear of the stage bit by bit. Sophisticated folks from the city scare the locals!
By the end of Coe's speech, the stage is nearly bare, with terrified townspeople huddled behind couches, peeking from closets and peering out from behind the door. I loved Charles Dubas's shaking, terrified school principal, rattling the couch in terror. The way Brown staged the scene - and the way the actors pulled it off - was just brilliant.
Special nod to Lisa Marie O'Neill's costumes (and whatever team helped her), likely assembled from thrift shops and assorted closets. Call it High Royal Hipster, with hints of gold and finery mixed with vintage colors and cuts, military-inspired pieces and the slimmest of slim-fit pants in gorgeous fabrics. Some of the pieces, like Coe's green jacket, frilly shirt and high-legged pants showcase a refreshing vision that eschews strict adherence to period details in favor of funky fun.
Looking for laughs? Visit provincial Russia and check out "The Government Inspector." Just don't order the cabbage.
"The Government Inspector" will run April 4-7 & 10-13 at 8 p.m. with matinée performances on Sunday and Wednesday at 2 p.m. at the Edison State College Black Box (L119-B). Tickets are $5 for students and $10 for adults and available online at: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/332375.
"The widow who flogs herself sounds interesting." 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.