“The Government Inspector”: A serious regression for Mac

As many of you may have watched, Macalester’s fall mainstage production was a piece entitled “The Government Inspector”, written in the 1800s. I want to keep that fact in mind as we move through this discussion, and I also want to acknowledge the phenomenal acting that occurred on the stage. I don’t want this critique to be misinterpreted as unsupportive of all of the fantastic and hard-working students that put hours of rehearsal time and effort into this production. The quality of the performance was truly impressive, and I commend you for it.

But I’ve got to say it. I am appalled that the Macalester theatre department would choose to put on a play so overtly disrespectful in its portrayal of women. Out of the three main women characters, one was a servant not allowed to speak. The other two were self-absorbed, man-crazy attention seekers. There was hardly a conversation (if any at all) where they weren’t obsessing over a man or their appearances. Their sole purpose in the show seemed to be to provide visual and sexual pleasure for the men involved.

Macalester, I expect better from you than that. Especially when compared to the ground-breaking gender switches in last year’s Romeo and Juliet, I can’t help but be sorely disappointed in the lack of agency the women in this piece were granted.

While watching this play, I searched for hints that perhaps this show was satiric; perhaps it was chosen to display how damaging gender roles are. Perhaps the women would gain agency at the end of the piece and take control over the oppressive actions of the men. But the issue is that none of those things happened. There was no discussion in the pre-show pamphlet problematizing the nature of this show. There was no discussion about the oppressive roles at all. And that is where Macalester has failed my expectations.

I want to take a moment to discuss the theme of this season’s productions: Staging Histories. The explanation provided by the theatre department for the theme is as follows:
“How does live performance enact concerts about power, place, forgetting and remembering? How does performance unmask the past in order to reveal the present? The 2013-14 season offerings display satire, hijinks, and choreographies against stasis in order to experience history as material for transformation.”

In response to this, I would say that this play definitely used the past to explore the present: women are still not taken seriously as real agents of action.

If I’m misinterpreting the whole play (and it is, indeed, supposed to be a satire), when unaccompanied by acknowledgement of such intentions, it remains highly problematic. I find issue when an entire audience laughs at a man yelling at women to “shut up,” especially when they were only allowed to obsess over how much they loved men.

This is particularly upsetting when it goes unfollowed by a conversation about the unacceptability of the treatment of women in this show. I think it is disgustingly against the inclusive, supportive place that Macalester claims to be, and I hope all future productions will be more mindful of the types of negative and oppressive roles in the plays they choose to perform.