“The Government Inspector” has made its way to an inclusive, supportive, top-notch liberal arts college in Minnesota. It means that the past and present corruption of meager officials in Russian rural towns translates to modern American realities. We were impressed by and proud of the choices that the Theatre Department made in order to stage this play so artfully, while staying so true to the nature of the classic. It saddens us that the choice to present this play is taken into question and demeaned as incongruent with the dominant culture at Macalester.
Let us remember that “The Government Inspector” was written in the 1800s by a Russian-Ukrainian classic writer Nikolai Gogol, and was meant to be a satire and nothing else. Though its main ridicule is targeted towards the obsequiousness of Russian rural town officials, both male and female characters receive a fair portion of derision. The play has survived precisely because it exposes and mocks human weaknesses that transcend gender, social status, borders and time. At the time in history, it just happened that persons in power were all male — it is a fact, albeit a problematic one. Reversing this fact would mean changing history, not staging it. Empowering female characters of this particular play, as much as it is desired, would be impossibly utopian even in the context of current feminist movements in Ukraine and Russia.
Female characters of the play, Anna Andreyevna and Maria Antonovna, are portrayed as pliant and simple. The gender of these characters should not entitle them to the sympathy of the audience as, just like the male characters, they are feasting at the time of a plague that is most of Russian history. Their lack of participation even allows us to view them as being more sensible than the men. If the actors were to subtly bring all the problematic issues to the foreground of the play, it would take away from the freedom of interpretation that satire gives to the viewers.
Mishka, the silent female character in Macalester’s production, is a man in the original text. Thus, the adaptation did attempt to diversify the gender ratio of the troupe. Alas, this decision eschews the author’s original intention. We rather take issue with the fact that her silence is a commentary on her social status, not on her gender.
Yes, “The Government Inspector” challenges all the safe spaces that the college has created. But we would like to believe that Macalester is strong enough to face a piece of art that is contrary to its values. A critical mind benefits from such encounters. We hope that Mac students are able to go beyond the groupthink that post-play discussions often induce. And Renee, there surely were post-play conversations about its problematic aspects. We were witnessing and initiating them. Although such discussions were confined to small groups of friends, they probably carried more power than a paragraph in the program would have. Not choosing to stage plays like “The Government Inspector” would change the labels that Macalester proudly carries to exclusive, censored, and homogenous. This is not what you mean, Renee, when you raise your polemic, but it comes close to banning an alternative work of art for not fitting into a majority-defined standard.