In the opening scene, town officials enter the mayor’s mansion one by one, slamming the door and causing several picture frames to fall to the ground. Each arrival results in chaos on stage and chuckles from the audience.
For its fall show, the Macalester Theater and Dance Department performed Nikolai Gogol’s 1836 play, “The Government Inspector.”
The play takes place in a small provincial Russian town run by a tyrannical mayor. News of a government inspector’s visit sets the plot into motion, as the town officials rush to cover up their corruption.
Unlike many of the department’s recent shows, “The Government Inspector” is a comedy.
“It’s hilarious,” Salima Seale ’14, the stage manager said. “This is one of the only straight-up comedies Macalester has done since I’ve gotten here.”
Robert Gelberg ’14, who played the role of the mayor, said: “It’s the funniest play I can remember Macalester doing in the last four years.”
According to professor Harry Waters Jr., the department chose the play because they had never done a Russian comedy before. But humor was not their only objective during the selection process; they wanted a show that would give new students an opportunity to experience theater at Macalester. “It taught us how to recruit first-years,” he said.
“The Government Inspector” featured thirteen actors, five of whom were first-years. This is a large cast for a Macalester production with varying levels of experience—only four of the thirteen actors were theater majors.
“Sometimes it’s easier with upperclassmen who are familiar with the department,” Seale said. “But I’ve really appreciated the youth. It’s interesting to see them progress, I’ve been really impressed with their work.”
Joining the cast of “The Government Inspector” enabled Kaan Salcin ’17 to quickly connect with the Theater and Dance Department. “It helped a lot with my transitions to Mac,” he said. “The rehearsals were rigorous, but I felt really integrated into the community.”
For the play, the department brought in first-time Macalester director Robert Rosen, a visiting professor teaching “Physical Approaches to Theater” during the fall semester. Although Rosen had directed plays at other schools, most of his experience was in professional theater. To direct this collegiate cast with a wide range of experience, Rosen shifted his strategy.
“I approached this show differently,” Rosen said. “I really directed the show instead of using a devising method where everyone participates in the creation of the show. It would have taken a lot more time and needed a certain amount of training.”
Although the large, diverse cast could have been challenging, Rosen felt prepared for opening night. The weekend rehearsals leading up to the first performance were a period of trial and error for the cast.
“I think it’s going really well,” Rosen said a day before opening night. “It’s a funny animal. The process gets really short at the end, but if the show runs perfectly two or three nights before we open then I get worried.”
Jeff Kaplan ’14 played the lead role of Klestakov, the man mistaken for the government inspector. He experienced more apprehension than Rosen before the first show. “I sort of felt unprepared,” he said. “It’s definitely very daunting remembering all the lines.”
Opening night, November 7, was relief for Kaplan.
“I loved the audience tonight,” he said afterwards. “It was really great to have people give a good laugh.”
For Seale, the first performance was a learning experience. She said that during the rehearsal period, the cast could lose its pulse on the comedic value of the show. An audience provided the final, missing element.
“There are certain lines that are set that you count on,” she said. “But there are things that actors are still playing with and changing. You rely on the audience for verbal response.”
“It’s really exciting,” Salcin said after his first-ever Macalester performance. “Even after rehearsing for a long time, you don’t really understand how it will feel.”
“I’ve done shows where we want people to think critically and hard,” Gelberg said. “With this show, it’s really just two and a half hours for you to relax and have a good time.”
According to Seale, while The Government Inspector may be interpreted as a critique of society, it is meant to be amusing. “There’s a lot of humor to be found in it and I hope people aren’t looking too deeply to miss that.”
As Rosen said, “If the audience doesn’t laugh and have a good time, they haven’t done their job.”