Nikolai Gogol’s play, “The Government Inspector,” may not be as well-known as some other productions but, according to the actors performing it at Robinson Secondary School, it’s flat-out hilarious.
“It’s a really funny show,” says Matt Calvert, who plays the title role. “Once people come see it, they’ll laugh and tell their friends about it.”
This show culminates Robinson’s four-week, mainstage production camp, Ovation! The curtain rises Friday-Saturday, July 22-23 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $5 at the door or at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/186207.
The 22 students involved in the show are mostly in high school and come from several, different schools. At the helm is Rocky Run Middle School’s theater director, Julie Wharton.
THE STORY unfolds in a small town in Russia in the late 19th century. The town leaders learn that a government inspector is coming to their village to see how things are running and report back to the capital. But they’re concerned because they’re all corrupt, in one way or another, so they don’t want to be scrutinized too closely.
At the same time, staying in the town’s inn is a lowly bureaucrat with no redeeming qualities — and he’s mistaken for the government inspector. But instead of setting things straight, he plays along and makes hundreds of rubles in bribes and is treated like royalty.
“He tells everyone he’s important, but he doesn’t actually know who they think he is,” said Wharton. “And all the characters are so broadly drawn that they’re ridiculous in their dishonesty and greed.”
In addition, to incorporate more female characters into the play, the thespians have created an original, parallel plot focusing on the women in the village. This show, called “The Innkeeper’s Wife,” is woven into the main play.
Proud of her cast, Wharton said, “All of them had to audition to become part of Ovation!, so they all have acting experience. And they’re building the set, doing costumes and learning all aspects of production. There’s a Russian proverb, ‘Don’t blame the mirror if your face is crooked.’ So the set will contain mirrors and, at times, the characters will be watching themselves in these mirrors.”
Assistant director is Robinson grad Jacob Sheldon, a senior theater major at Texas A&M. Wharton’s delighted with his help and says things are going well. “The actors are focused and have meshed beautifully,” she said. “So this is really an ensemble experience, and they’re super-talented, clever, funny and creative.”
Wharton said the show is “funny with a kick. We can’t laugh at it without also thinking about how horribly we, too, behave sometimes when driven by greed and power.”
PORTRAYING THE IMPOSTER, Ivan Hlestakov, is Chantilly High junior Matt Calvert. “He’s really a loser; his dad sent him away from his town so he’d get his act together and grow up,” explained Calvert. “He’s over-dramatic and cocky — even sleazy — and he’ll do anything he can to catch a quick buck. He keeps saying he’s going to change, but he never does.”
Calvert likes playing someone so arrogant because “it’s a fun twist on a character I don’t usually play. His emotions range from depression to courageous to scared to nervous — he’s all over the place.”
He said the audience will enjoy the show’s outrageous comedy and over-the-top characters. “Everyone has their own, distinct, corruption trait,” said Calvert. “For example, there’s a postmistress who opens and reads everyone’s mail before she delivers it.”
Josh Lutz, also a Chantilly junior, plays the mayor, Anton Antonovich Svoznik Dumakhanovsky. “He’s a dirt bag,” said Lutz. “He used money and influence to become mayor, and he uses his power to tell everyone what to do. He has lots of money and treats everyone else like they’re lower than him — almost like servants. But when he meets the inspector, he acts really nice, for his own benefit.”
Lutz likes playing a mean person because it’s a “complete inversion of the way I think. And because our characters are so [exaggerated], we get to do just about anything on stage.
People will like the play’s satirical elements. The characters make fun of each other — which is the whole reason Gogol wrote this play. He saw there was so much chaos and corruption in Russia that he wanted to send a message to the people.”
ROBINSON SOPHOMORE Sophia Sempeles plays the mayor’s wife, Anna Andreyevna. “She’s a slut who wants to be rich,” said Sempeles. “At first, she wants the inspector to marry her daughter Marya so she can be wealthier. Then she decides she wants him for herself, and that’s when her hussy side comes out. It’s a fun role because I do lots of stuff I’d never do in real life, like hitting on guys like that.”
She said the audience will love the play’s hilarious comedy and the actors’ talent. “They make the story believable, in an outrageous way,” said Sempeles. “There aren’t any good guys — but that’s why it’s so much fun. Audience members can root for their favorite bad guy. And there’s a surprise ending they won’t be able to predict.”
Portraying the school principal is Westfield High freshman Zoe Hawryluk. “She doesn’t like teachers and, whenever she has to talk about them, she gets angry and flips out,” said Hawryluk. “She’s straight-forward, but uptight. It’s fun to play her because she changes emotions very quickly. She’ll freak out and then go back to being quiet and keeping to herself.”
Hawryluk said the audience will like the play’s jokes — “even the ones they won’t get ’til later. And it’s cool because it’s about corrupt people with the same corruptions many people in today’s world have.”
Andie Matten, a Robinson freshman, plays the locksmith’s wife, Irta. “She gossips so much that she doesn’t realize she’s being mean when she insults someone,” said Matten. “The mayor’s maid steals things from his house, and then she and Irta sell them in town.”
She enjoys her part because she “can vent what I’m feeling, at times, and not worry about being judged because that’s my character. It also gives me experience playing a different role. The audience will like the honesty and realism of these roles and will be surprised to enjoy the show so much. It’s an interesting and unusual plot.”
Matten’s in the extra play the actors wrote with Wharton’s help and, she said, “It’s cool to make the characters the way we want and to see the play go from brainstorming to the ending performance.”