Some of the Bay Area’s best comic actors appear in American Conservatory Theater’s new production of Nikolai Gogol’s “The Government Inspector,” and, unfortunately, they’re not all that funny.
Although the translation and adaptation by Britain’s Alistair Beaton give the language in the play a slightly contemporary feel (words such as “slut” are included), the story of a 19th-century Russian town whose officials take extreme measures to please a visiting government inspector remains static in this two-hour, 45-minute show.
Program notes reveal that Gogol himself didn’t write the piece as a satire about politics, greed and corruption — he viewed it as an examination of a lack of spiritual values — even though that’s how it’s often been played since its premiere in Russia in 1836.
Director Carey Perloff takes that tack in this production, which suffers due to over-clowning on the part of everyone in the cast. Pushing too hard and playing too broadly, the characters simply are caricatures, and ultimately make little emotional impact.
The mistaken-identity plotline is simple to follow. The show opens with the town authorities gathered in a meeting as the mayor receives news that a big governmental official has arrived, unannounced, to conduct investigations into local matters.
Gregory Wallace casts the con man, Khlestakov, with a goofy tone and wears a simper.
The bumbling men and women who kowtow to him don’t fare much better. These typically excellent performers — Graham Beckel as the mayor, Stephen Barker Turner as the doctor, Anthony Fusco as the postmaster, Rod Gnapp as the minister of health, Dan Hiatt as the magistrate, Delia MacDougall as the director of education, Sharon Lockwood as the mayor’s wife, Amanda Sykes as the mayor’s daughter and Joan Mankin and Geoff Hoyle as landowners Dobchinsky and Bobchinsky — all look like they’re acting throughout.
The high points of the production are the excellent sets by Erik Flatmo and costumes by Beaver Bauer. The whimsical, off-kilter designs appealingly exemplify a world gone wild.
IF YOU GO
The Government Inspector
Where: American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. most Tuesdays through Saturdays; 2 p.m. most Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays; closes April 20
Tickets: $17 to $82
Contact: (415) 749-2228 or www.act-sf.org