I have no way of knowing, but I’d say the chances are fairly good that director Connor McCanlus is, right now, confined to bed, probably sedated and definitely dreaming about big puffy clouds doing absolutely nothing.
I’ve just come from the Throughline Theatre’s production of The Inspector General featuring an enormous cast of local actors. It’s all been directed to within an inch of its life with so much stuff happening, jam-packed with so many bits and featuring a huge quantity of shtick ladled on with a trowel. I’m exhausted from just watching it … I can’t imagine how McCanlus survived the process.
The Inspector General continues through August 18. Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre, Downtown. www.throughlinetheatre.org. 1-888-71-TICKETS .
Those of you who did the extra-credit assignment will remember that The Inspector General is a political satire by Nikolai Gogol written in 1836 lampooning the greed and venality of Imperial Russia. The comedy is set is a nameless Rooski backwater lorded over by the incredibly corrupt and rapacious Governor.
Through a series of merry mix-ups he and his equally crooked cohorts come to mistakenly believe that an out-of-town nogoodnik, Klehstakov, is a highly-placed government official and ply him with money, food, wine and women in hopes of future favors and he’s only too happy to play out the deception. It all ends in a comical mess when he skips town and the Governor is revealed to be the idiot he is.
The good news is that McCanlus has assembled a 14-person cast every bit as committed, enthusiastic and hard-working as he and all of them attack this script hammer and tong (or sickle?)
Led by the very impressive Everett Lowe as the Governor and a slyly amused Greg Tomasino playing Klehstakov, McCanlus doesn’t let a moment of this show go unexamined and undecorated.
And there’s not a sloppy moment or performance in the execution of McCanlus’ design. It may be mugging, spit takes and slapstick, but it’s excessively clean and razor sharp mugging, spit takes and slapstick. A comedian of no small skill himself, McCanlus is brutally aware that comedy needs laser-focused precision to succeed.
The unfortunate bad news here is that it’s just not funny. I don’t mean the director or cast, I’m talking about a.) the script and b.) the translation. As mentioned above the play was written in 1836 and you know something – the jokes haven’t gotten any fresher. Once you get the set-up, “Scoundrel Bilks Yahoos” Gogol just plays that same bit over and over again. And while maybe he can be credited with originating this plot nearly 200 years ago, there isn’t a sitcom since which hasn’t, at some point, used it.
But even with as uninvolving as the play is, it deserves better than this translation. The program doesn’t say who wrote it – probably out of shame. It’s airless and unyielding with not a hint of style or comedic flair. With its stilted and witless manner it reminded me of one of those 1950’s Soviet musicals where the villagers sing about the glory of this year’s wheat harvest.
And those two elements doom this production. The actors slog away, trying desperately to make a funny silk purse, but to no avail. By the second act they’ve nothing else to do but just stand on stage shrieking at the top of their voices hoping to make you think the play just reached a dizzying comic crescendo.
It, believe me, did not.
Ted Hoover is the Pittsburgh Current Theater Critic. Reach him at email@example.com.