Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

Gogol Play Misinterpreted

Cleveland Press

The Play House Season opened last night with Gogol's "The Inspector General." The play is a superb satire but unfortunately it is being done like a comic opera.

This production is not without its laughs and obviously the audience derived some entertainment from it. But the play is not farce, however, and all of the frantic posturing, antic stomping and hurrying and scurrying about only detracts from Gogol's witty commentary on society's corruption and his biting caricatures of bureaucratic types.

This heavy-handed burlesque at the Euclid-77th Theater obscures the characterizations that were so deftly sketched in the play's lines. Instead we are left only with the thin plot of mistaken identity, a device used so often it hardly sets one work above another.

"The Inspector General" concerns a 19th Century Russian town whose corrupt officials fearfully await the arrival of an inspector general. When a stranger shows up at the inn he is mistaken for the government official.

THUS A FOPPISH and penniless government clerk is wined, dined and bribed as every man (and a few women, too) admit to the bit of rottenness that exists within them.

It is not the situation but the characters who are important -- the excitable Dobchinsky and Bobehinsky, the vain and greedy wife of the mayor, their empty headed daughter, the luxury-loving judge, the corrupt mayor and all the other graspy, grubby people.

Such big chiselers are they that they imagine the same massive corruption in a man who is at best only a petty chiseler himself.

Some of this occasionally comes through. At moments a few of Gogol's lines rise above the circus atmosphere and modern viewers can get a chuckle out of the mayor's order to plant signs around a pile of rubble so that it looks like town planning.

THE DIRECTION is by Richard Oberlin and the basic misconception must be his. The performers are consistent within the framework offered them but to judge them beyond that would be unfair.

The production features loud background music, numerous anachronisms, and an overuse of entrances and exits through the audience. And for all of its helter-skelter actions it is a production that drags.