The 2012 Tony Award-winning Shakespeare Theatre Company kicks off its new season on September 13 with The Government Inspector, the company’s very first Russian play. Nikolai Gogol’s satirical comedy of errors follows Hlestakov, a civil servant lacking in funds who travels from Saint Petersburg to a small Russian town where he is mistaken for an incognito inspector. Hilarity ensues when the mayor hires government officials to prevent Hlestakov from uncovering the town’s corruption.
Shakespeare Theatre’s Artistic Director Michael Kahn directs Jeffrey Hatcher’s adaptation of the 1836 play. Kahn feels a strong connection to the play because his mother was born in Russia and he grew up reading Gogol.
“I am really enjoying working on this production,” he said. “This is one of the funniest and most clever satires ever written about small town corruption. The play is hilarious [and] it will appeal to all types of audiences.”
Broadway actor and Shakespeare Theatre veteran Derek Smith plays Hlestakov. Smith recently performed in the company’s 2011 productions of Much Ado About Nothing and The Merchant of Venice. Costar Claire Brownell described him as amazing.
“He’s really a brilliant performer,” she said. “It is worth it for so many reasons to see this show but it would be worth it just to see him.”
Brownell plays Marya, the mayor’s daughter. The actress, who performed in An Ideal Husband and has appeared on Broadway and in the national tour of The 39 Steps, said Marya is terrifically dissatisfied with living in a horrible Podunk town.
“Over the course of the events of the play, everyone’s world is rocked by this government inspector who comes to town,” she said. “Marya is very cynical both about her life and about whether or not he has the promise that everyone is hoping that he does.”
Brownell said Hatcher’s new adaptation of the play offers both modern language and physical humor.
“It’s a very witty play. But it’s also bawdy, in a way.”
The actress said Kahn sets a creative tone in the rehearsal room where she feels like she can make offers and he will help her sculpt the moments. Brownell had seen other Shakespeare Theatre plays directed by Kahn and always wanted to work with him.
“I feel so fortunate that I get to [work with him] and on this really funny play. He’s a wonderful director.”
Her favorite aspect of working with Kahn is his ability to keep the play grounded in realism.
“He’s finding the truth in a comic situation,” she explained about the play’s location in small town Russia. “It’s not immediately absurd. So the comedy is pretty real. It’s these strange circumstances that these people find themselves in and we have to play it for very high and very real stakes.”
She said that each of her costars are equally enjoyable to work with because she gets to see each of them bring a different element of their comedic chops to the table.
“Because it’s this group of hilarious people, it’s hard holding it together in rehearsal. It’s really a fruitful place to be for comedy.”
Brownell sees The Government Inspector as relatable to audiences because of its modern sensibility.
“It’s not a distant production,” she said. “You can sit back, relax and enjoy yourself.”
Tickets range from $43-$95. Shakespeare Theatre releases a limited amount of $15 Young Prose tickets to patrons 35 and younger every Tuesday at 10 a.m. Tickets are limited to four per person and valid through the following Sunday performances. Purchase at the box office or via phone.
Mingle with other young professionals and savvy theatergoers ages 21 to 35 at Young Prose Night on Wednesday, October 3 at 7:30 p.m.
The Government Inspector runs September 13 through October 28 at the Shakespeare Theatre Company, Lansburgh Theatre: 450 7th St. NW, DC; 202-547-1122; www.shakespearetheatre.org