Political farce bumps up against reality

Perseverance Theatre's main stage season opener is a high-energy production of classic Russian play

Posted: Thursday, September 18, 2008

 If the political climate is making you nauseated or distressed, and you're driven to insanity by the local meteorological climate, a good laugh at the absurdities of power-mongering is the recommended panacea.

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Perseverance Theatre's high-energy production of a classic Russian farce - "The Government Inspector," by Nikolai Gogol, written in 1837 - is staged in high Alaska style. The set has an authentic Bush feeling: Bare plywood walls with a half-baked attempt to put up siding, cases of booze doubling as furniture, moose heads on the walls, space heaters and fold-up chairs. And who loaned the theater that enormous stuffed bear? Nice!

Most everyone is dressed in Goodwill chic - clashing patterns, garish colors and polyester. Footwear is either Converse low-riders in wild colors, sheepskin boots or Xtratufs. The actors are obviously enjoying themselves - all nineteen of them.

The core acting crew play a handful of silly dignitaries taking advantage of their government posts in a remote Alaska town: the zany postmistress who steams open any letters that look interesting (played with delightful eccentricity by Gina Spartz), the bumbling superintendant of schools (Ed Christian), the bombastic chief of police (Ishmael Hope), the distractable judge (Ibn Bailey) and the tattletale director of charities (Kent Pillsbury).

This multitude of larger-than-life characters is mostly on stage during the entire show, except for the drunk doctor who spends a good deal of time in the closet, and the mayor's manservant (Joe Symonoski), who says nothing but trudges on and off the set with whatever tool will help him respond to the current crisis (chain saw, vacuum cleaner, and so on).

At the center of this farce is the reprehensibly sycophantic, yet completely loveable, mayor of the town. Dan Reaume's brilliant and boisterous performance in this role is well worth several viewings. He swaggers and brags and plays cards and gets drunk with the rest of them, until he needs to wind up into even higher gear to prepare the town for its dreaded government inspection. He wheedles and cajoles and bamboozles the supposed inspector, shamelessly foisting wife, daughter, hospitality and plenty of cash onto the bewildered opportunist.

The mayor's wife also deserves special mention: Katie Jensen in leopard-skin spandex. Utterly convincing as the ding-bat schemer and wanna-be sexpot, Katie delivers a detailed performance. She fully engages us with her hands and eyes and lips, blowing kisses at the much-regaled imposter.

This imposter, a bratty low-level functionary living on daddy's largesse, has tumbled by happenstance into a moment of fame and fortune. All the town officials, pandering to his imagined authority, are falling over each other to "lend" him money and otherwise ingratiate themselves. This smooth-talking and enchanting young man is perfectly cast: Ryan Conarro is the bad boy we love to hate. We can hardly admire his character - a brazen, boastful thief - yet he plays him with great charm, flirting in bad French and giving these godforsaken townsfolk a long-desired glimpse of "big city" lights.

The ballyhooed surprise ending is a bit of a disappointment - it's too stylized for the rough-and-ready slant on this version of the 170-year-old play.

Completely astounding however, are the several similarities to our current political soap opera. This script was translated from the Russian of course, but not otherwise altered. Yet peppered throughout are pointed, but unintentional, digs at a certain government official currently dominating the news.

In fact, had she not been whirled into political orbit recently, Sarah Palin was apparently slated to make a cameo appearance as the real government inspector on opening night. Because the real inspector does indeed show up at the very end of the play. Watch out!

• Emily Kane was a professional arts writer and promoter for nearly 10 years. Now she mostly writes about health and wellness. Her articles can be found at www.DrEmilyKane.com.

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