THE GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR by Nikolai Gogol, adapted and directed by Morris Panych (Soulpepper). At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (Distillery District, 55 Mill, Building 49). In rep to March 23. $29-$54. See Continuing Listings for details. 416-866-8666. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
The symbolism is apt. Soulpepper is inaugurating its new home - a refreshing, intimate space in the Distillery District - with two contrasting plays. Our Town is drama; The Government Inspector is comedy. Both are self-consciously aware that they're plays.
In fact, there are some in-jokes in Morris Panych 's adaptation of the Nikolai Gogol comedy that even regular theatregoers might miss.
When Khlestakov ( Diego Matamoros ), the narcissistic actor who's mistaken by a small town for the titular inspector general, moans about the theatre, he mentions one particular show with "no words, just people moving back and forth."
This is clearly a reference to Panych's own acclaimed production of another Gogol masterpiece, The Overcoat. Clever.
Other amusing scenes include swipes at inefficient, corrupt governments (relevant, of course, in light of the sponsorship scandal) and a line about building a theatre.
The satire, one of the purest mistaken identity comedies, holds up well in Panych's broad version, although some sequences ramble on a bit too long. You can only take so much cuteness, like the forced Russian dance that serves as an awkward scene transition in the first act.
Thankfully, some cast members display good comic instincts in their delivery. Bill Webster 's corrupt mayor, while wily, never descends to moustache-twirling villainy, and Oliver Dennis brings a sweet humanity to his role as the actor Osip.
Best is Matamoros, who performs his character's drunk set-piece with perfect modulation and physical grace.
Designers Ken MacDonald (sets), Judith Bowen (costumes) and Paul Mathieson (lighting) take their cues from music hall, giving us an old-fashioned curtain, some effective shadow play and the occasional grotesque figure.
The chief victim of all this is Nancy Palk , whose shrill mayor's wife is so over-the-top, she seems like the Dame figure performed in drag from English pantomimes.