The Government Inspector at Mary Moody Northen Theatre

The St. Edward's University Theatre Department delivers Gogol's Russian satire with gigagags at top speed

(l-r) Michael Stuart, Jeffery Mills, and Meredith McCall (Photo by Bret Brookshire)

A farce is a farce, of course, of course. And a satire is a satire – but there's no clever TV theme song to continue this motif. Though combining the genres can get sticky, Nikolai Gogol's The Government Inspector, an 1836 comedy lampooning Russian government corruption, seems custom-made for the melding. Despite some pacing issues, St. Edward's University makes this satirical farce into a tour de force (of course!) that hits the comedy gas pedal early and never lets up.

Director Michelle Polgar's vision of Jeffrey Hatcher's 2008 adaptation begins slowly enough as a group of corrupt government officials, led by a wacky, wily Michael Stuart as the mayor, scramble to get their town up to snuff on word of the imminent arrival of an inspector from Moscow. The anxiety increases when townsfolk Bobchinsky and Dobchinsky (a binary delight by Trey Stoker and Victoria Ann Jimenez, respectively) bring word that they've spotted the inspector at the local inn. And when the local postman (Matt Buzonas), whose relationship with privacy and timeliness is shaky at best, confirms the inspector has been in town for weeks, plots and bribes and schemes shift into high gear.

And once that happens, the action is relentless. We meet our "inspector" – in fact, a lowly clerk with an alcohol and gambling problem – with a pistol to his head. The moment ends, and the switch flips on the machine that is actor Jeffery Mills as his character, Hlestakov, decides to pose as a gunslinger in the mirror rather than off himself over his many troubles. It is at this moment that Mills' charisma rockets the energy and momentum of the production into the stratosphere, never to return. The remainder of the show is a juggernaut of gags, one-liners, and cleverly written circular comedy as Hlestakov realizes his situation and works to exploit the town's befuddled elite. Fantastic turns by Meredith McCall as the mayor's wife and Cheyenne Barton as their angsty daughter add to the fun, but it is Mills at the helm, propelling the production forward.

As a seasoned and spectacular actor, Mills is able to raise the bar and keep it raised, which challenges the student actors to keep up – which they do, and admirably. With the polished comedic skills of Equity guest artists Stuart and McCall, they all turn the show into a laugh-a-second joke factory that leaves the audience's smile muscles sore by the end. As hilarious as it is, the show is almost too much of a good thing. I found myself eventually desiring respite from the nonstop silliness, wishing for a few restful valleys to match the comic peaks. And while the point is to lacerate government corruption and all its ridiculousness, a bit more character development may have served to make the comedy more organic.

That said, the level of professionalism among the actors certainly extends to the design team as well. The environment is crafted well by gorgeous, spot-on costuming by Mercedes O'Bannion, complemented by Tara Cooper's hair and makeup design. Chase Staggs gives us a great set illuminated with specific, well-executed lighting by Kathryn Eader. Taylor Juarez's sound design is subtle, adding to the laughs when necessary. The end result is an uproarious evening that will likely send audiences home comparing the laughable world of the play to the laughable state of politics today.

The Government Inspector

Mary Moody Northen Theatre at St. Edward's University, 3001 S. Congress, 512/448-8484
Through Feb. 21
Running time; 2 hr.

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Mary Moody Northen Theatre, Michelle Polgar, Jeffrey Hatcher, Nikolai Gogol, St. Edward's University, Jeffery Mills, Michael Stuart, Meredith McCall, Cheyenne Barton, Trey Stoker, Victoria Ann Jimenez, Mercedes O'Bannion, Tara Cooper, Chase Staggs, Kathryn Eader, Taylor Jaurez, Jeffrey Hatcher

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