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Davis, California

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Government Inspector blends cynicism and slapstick

POLLINATOR ARTS / COURTESY
POLLINATOR ARTS / COURTESY

Theatre and dance department excels in their production of Russian play

This month, the UC Davis Department of Theatre and Dance put on a production of Government Inspector, written by Nikolai Gogol and adapted by David Harrower. The play focuses on how the officials and citizens of an unnamed Russian town react to news that a stranger named Khlestakov, played by second-year theatre and dance major Taylor Church, is actually a government inspector in disguise.

One of the most striking aspects of the play was its unique blend of cynicism and slapstick. The use of physical comedy in combination with absurd characters is used to perfection in Government Inspector. Every character has a tick or flair that makes them distinctly hilarious.

One of the drawbacks of this adaptation was that, at times, the corruption depicted in the Russian town seemed to lack nuance. The plot is centered on the idea that every official in the town can be bought for the right price and that the poor are powerless against dishonesty, but this concept becomes repetitive at times. For example, there is a scene where a sergeant’s widow, played by second-year theatre and dance major Jasmine Washington, confronts the inspector about an unjust flogging she received and the inspector cannot help her. I felt like this scene lacked the emotional punch it should have had because we had already seen a similar depiction of unjust punishments earlier on the play. While the injustice of the town seemed like a realistic enough depiction of 19th century Russia, I would have appreciated a bit more complexity in this adaptation.

Apart from that, the production was an entertaining watch. I had a chance to observe the cast during their rehearsals, and the chemistry from their practices definitely carried onto the actual stage performance. The energy of the play picked up whenever there were multiple actors on stage, a testament to the tight-knit quality of the cast. Two characters in particular, Dobchinsky and Bob Chinsky (played by fifth-year dramatic arts majors Jesse Chung and Karl Uriza respectively), earned big laughs whenever they were on stage.  

As the layers of Khelstakov’s deception grew deeper, the play became more surreal, creating moments for expressive performances and the cast relished each opportunity. The play concludes with a intense soliloquy from the town’s mayor, delivered with deranged aplomb by third-year dramatic arts major Daniel Ferrer. I’ve always felt that actors derive some glee from playing characters at their lowest, or in this case, most insane. And as I watched Ferrer leap across the stage and bark his lines, I could tell that he was clearly enjoying his manic, unhinged role.

The play ended with a slow-motion fight sequence involving nearly the entire cast. It felt like a fitting way to end the play watching a group of actors commit themselves to their characters eccentricities with youthful enthusiasm, all to the sound of the audience’s laughter and applause.

WRITTEN BY: Rashad Hurst – arts@theaggie.org

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