The Las Positas College theater arts department's newest production is set to debut this week, with "The Government Inspector" starting its two-weekend run Friday evening.
While the play is coming in the wake of an intensive, relatively short rehearsal schedule, the idea of producing it locally first came to the college's performing arts and theater coordinator, Titian Lish, in 2019 after her first experience with the play at a theater festival.
"We laughed so hard that we cackled," Lish said in an announcement from Las Positas College. "We put it on our shortlist, and I am so excited to be working on it. It was a hilarious night of theater while also being bitingly spot-on in the political criticism."
The play was written well over a century ago by Russian writer Nikolai Gogol, who first published the work in 1836 before a revision in 1842, with Gogol saying it was based on accounts he'd heard from renowned writer Alexander Pushkin, who died a year after it was first published.
While the story had initially been meant to serve as a critique of corrupt politics in 19th century Russia, Lish noted that she had been struck by its continued resonance in the 21st century.
"For me, one of the alarming realities of the play is just how relevant it remains and how universally relatable it is to all groups of people," Lish continued. "It doesn't hold any group in precious esteem. Its wit and stylistic charm are so fun, and I am very excited for audiences to come cackle with me."
Behind the scenes, the cast and crew have already had their fair share of laughs and reflection on the current political era and its similarities with 19th century Russia.
"In this era of extreme political polarization it is a breath of fresh air to be able to cackle at how 'absolute power corrupts absolutely,'" said Sean McGrory, who plays The Judge in the upcoming production.
McGrory added that the play showcases -- often hilariously -- the ways in which the worst of human nature can have the same impact on people from a range of backgrounds and positions, including "scheming government officials, filthy townsfolk, identical 'twins' and more."
"Whether it's bribes, over imbibing, or adultery this show plays on humanity's worst impulses wrapped neatly in a veneer of sanctimony and righteousness, not unlike our situation with many elected officials today," McGrory said. "So, if you are exhausted by our current political landscape, or just are in need of a laugh, come spend a night with us at the Las Positas theater, and meet these sorry saps stuck inside their small Russian hamlet."
McGrory, who has an extensive background in local theater prior to his time as a returning student at Las Positas, noted that the intensive rehearsal process was nearly identical in his experience to that seen in professional theater, noting that this is by design for a program intent on preparing students for the real world of professional theater.
His castmates emphasized that diving into the material and the busy rehearsal schedule had been a once-in-a-lifetime experience that they hope to translate to audiences over the next two weekends of the play's run.
"'The Government Inspector' is truly going to be a show I look back on fondly as an actor, as a theater student, and as a person," said William Burgess, who plays The Mayor.
Castmate Mason Homer, who plays Ivan Hlestakov, said that getting to know his character in particular in addition to the humorous material and adventures during rehearsals was helping him experience and solidify his thirst for acting.
"Everyone has really come together for this hilarious farce and I have been having a very fun time," Homer said. "Playing Ivan has brought to me a greater understanding of my passion and I'm very fortunate for every opportunity this show has given me."
The play kicks off this Friday (Oct. 27) at 8 p.m. in the Barbara F. Mertes Center for the Arts black box theater at the Las Positas campus at 3000 Campus Hill Drive in Livermore. Evening performances are set for the same 8 p.m. on Saturday (Oct. 28) and during the second weekend of shows on Nov. 3-4, with 2 p.m. matinees scheduled both Sundays (Oct. 29 and Nov. 5).
Tickets are available at the door or via www.laspositascollege.edu/theater.