19th-century comedy still garners laughs

‘The Government Inspector’, a play from 1836, avoids falling flat because of its physical, quirky sense of humor.

Temple professor David O’Connor directs 'The Government Inspector' (Courtesy Lantern Theater).

It’s been more than a century since The Government Inspector was first written. Through the years, productions have been done in countless countries and cities – and now it’s landed at the Lantern Theater Company. As part of its 15th season, the Lantern presents a new adaptation full of the usual dated slapstick comedy and reckless horseplay.

The Government Inspector, written in 1836 by Nikolai Gogol, is a comedy of errors in which a small village in czarist Russia is turned upside down when a mayor and a few of his confidants find out a government official is going to examine the village and record his findings. In the chaos and panic that ensue, the townspeople mistake a well-dressed con man named Khlestakov (Luigi Sottile) for the government inspector. The con man’s mistaken identity leads to confusion as everyone desperately seeks the inspector’s approval.

The production is a brave piece to do in the 21st century, and the script is supported by strong acting and avant-garde directing and design.

Under the direction of Temple alumnus and professor David O’Connor, the cast is able to tap into the major themes of the play.

The production focuses on the importance of an individual’s true identity.

It was wise of O’Connor to keep the czarist Russia setting, which retains a sense of the period that would otherwise be lost in a modern setting.

Meghan Jones designed the set, which is made up of geometrically placed squares, rectangles and trapezoids.

The quirky costumes created by Millie Hiibel aren’t from the 1830s, but that’s the way they’re meant to be. The designs seem makeshift because the village itself is also makeshift.

Because there is no simple way of changing the sets, the actors comically scream “scene change,” and then actors on stage move boxes and beds.

The dynamic ensemble cast, which includes Temple professor David Ingram, as well as Anthony Lawton, Seth Reichgott, Sarah Sanford and the aforementioned Sottile, work off each other’s emotions and physicality in an effective, funny way.

Sottile creates a lovably misguided Khlestakov. During a drunken stupor, he hysterically falls and slides, as the townspeople tend to his beck and call. Other notable performances include Sarah Sanford’s portrayal of Marya, the skinny awkward school director. Her physicality and facial expressions are perfectly frenzied and frantic.

On the whole, The Government Inspector is a brave take and a classic comedy in the same company of modern pieces like A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and The Producers.

The Government Inspector is a bright account of Gogol’s historic and classic tale that takes advantage of Philadelphia’s open-minded, experimental theater community. It’s full of laughs and awkward moments everyone can relate to.

Max McCormack can be reached at max.mccormack@temple.edu.

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