The square-framed stage is divided into three rooms, two downstairs and one up, giving us the impression that we are staring into an ant farm or some kind of elaborate rodent cage. The animals inside, a collection of inept and corrupt small-town politicians, erupt immediately into action: a government inspector is on his way from the capital, may in fact already be in town, and this gaggle of grifters must quickly arrange for the appearance of honesty and stability. That means putting patients in the hospitals, getting the geese out of the courtrooms, and accepting no more bribes. All of which is complicated when these put-upon nincompoops mistake an aristocratic layabout (Michael Urie) for the inspector in disguise.
Director Jesse Berger and his Red Bull Theater are currently mounting a first-rate revival of Nikolai Gogol’s classic satire, The Government Inspector. From its thunderclap opening moment to its smash-cut-to-black final line, this is a tightly choreographed, high-energy circus of bloated egos and swaggering hot air brought into sharp focus by a game cast and a glowing adaptation by Jeffrey Hatcher, whose text packs in more jokes without sacrificing the spirit of the original play.
Though the entire cast is terrific, Mr. Urie stands out as the wannabe Wertherian whose slim figure belies a voracious appetite for food, drink, talk, money, and women. Talene Monahon brings a glassy-eyed, automaton-like demeanor to one of the objects of his affection, while Mary Testa, playing the other, practically bursts out of her dress with clawing sexuality.
Mr. Hatcher’s adaptation was written in 2008, and Mr. Berger is right to avoid the temptation of inserting Donald Trump into this piece—surely there was a moment or two that would have allowed for the obvious jibe—but The Government Inspector sparkles because of the universality of pettiness, not because it lampoons specific political figures. Honestly, I cannot remember the last time I laughed this heartily and this consistently at the theater.
The Government Inspector runs through June 24th at the Duke on 42nd (229 W. 42nd Street New York, NY) and then through August 20 at New World Stages (340 West 50th Street New York, NY). 2 hours. One intermission.