Light and entertaining, the Khan Theatre’s The Government Inspector 2022 by Ilan Hatzor is subtitled “A Comedy of Corruption.” How can corruption be funny? When the tables are turned, and a corrupt Mayor, along with his equally corrupt council members are fooled by a con man. Inspired by Nikolai Gogol’s landmark play Revizor (originally published in 1836 and known in English as The Government Inspector), Hatzor’s play retains elements of the original themes and structure yet is entirely local, Israeli, and timely. Lively, fast-paced, and delightfully wacky, the play is directed by Ilan Ronen and marked by excellent performances by the ensemble of actors.
Establishing a comic tone and blurring the edges of the fourth wall, the two city inspectors – both named Sasson, but one is Moradov (Nir Ron) and one is Davidov (Yoav Hyman) – come out to supervise the set up for the mayor’s speech, while the audience is still entering the theatre. As they put up large posters announcing a camel marathon, Svetlana Breger’s clever design stands out and folds up so swiftly and neatly – it’s a real treat! The two city inspector clowns are superb, their hilarious performance is one of the play’s highlights. Fools and heralds, they are often the conveyers of information, which they deliver in charming unison or striking ineptitude, either interrupting one another, speaking identical sentences in tandem yet with a delay, or some other amusing malfunction.
The play is set in a small, undistinguished town in the Negev – a part of Israel that has struggled and suffered neglect, as is the case for other peripheral regions. The incumbent mayor, Oscar Peperano (Erez Shafrir) is seeking re-election, and delivers a self-congratulatory speech boasting of his achievements and contributions to the town, referencing Ben Gurion, the iconic champion of the Negev. Yet his demeanor changes dramatically when he receives a tip that he and his council members are being secretly investigated for corruption.
As it turns out, there’s a lot to investigate. The play has a large cast, with local government well representing all the varied forms of possible corruption, with the mayor’s wife and daughter revealing other aspects of political corruption. They also, to a certain extent, represent different ethnic, religious, and ideological groups in Israel. The advantage is that this helps keep the play on solid comic ground – by pointing the finger at almost everyone, the emphasis is on corruption in general. Yet this also means that there is less room to explore the individual characters.
With the mayor and his colleagues on the alert for a secret inspector, word comes via the two Sassons – who else! – that the dreaded personage may already be in town, incognito. Forfera (Vitali Friedland) and his friend Sharshur (Itay Szor) are two small-time gamblers on the run from loan sharks. Forfera establishes his con-artist talents as dressed in a snazzy suit, he convinces the motel manager Tzion (Arie Tcherner) to let them stay on credit a while longer. Tcherner embodies the gruff manager of a shabby establishment to perfection in this brief scene. Szor is very, very funny as the fearful, hungry, sidekick, his very presence onstage elicits smiles of amusement. But the best is yet to come.
The mayor, thinking that Forfera may be the inspector, arrives at the duo’s motel room, much to their fright and confusion. The transition is a bit abrupt, somewhat stretching credibility, but suspension of disbelief is more relaxed in comedy, making it easy enough to accept that the mayor believes Forfera to be a government inspector. Hebrew speakers will note and enjoy the dual meaning of the word “mevaker” which can mean “visitor” as well as “inspector”. Forfera understands the situation well enough to realize that whatever is going on, he has a chance to benefit. And that’s when the fun really begins.
Shown around town and showered with attention and alcohol, Forfera takes on his role with glee, and Friedland really soars in his portrayal of the charismatic con man. Hosted at the Peperano home, he introduces himself as Nimrod Shahar, and becomes more and more loquacious as the visit goes on. Luna (Odelya Moreh-Matalon) tries to impress the supposed inspector with her culture and sophistication, using overly formal and amusingly incorrect speech. As the gathered company thirstily accepts Forfera’s lies, he inflates his importance even more, casually name-dropping and implying that he knows everyone there is to know. Friedland embodies Forfera with charm and graceful, hilarious physicality. As the happy imposter becomes more and more involved in his own fiction, making grandiose promises, wineglass in hand, his limbs loosen and it turns into a wild-eyed rant, as he balances on the arm rest of the couch, holding everyone literally, in sway.
As the plot develops, with layers of intrigue and corruption, the sins of the local government are exposed one by one as they try to squirm out of the consequences. Carmit Mesilati-Kaplan stands out as the legal adviser who cleverly schemes and maneuvers to disentangle and disassociate herself from the mess. Most significant is the play’s reflection of a society in which corruption has permeated every aspect of government, becoming an integral part of the system. It’s a timely and important message, echoing Gogol in the breaking of the fourth wall. Yet it is one whose impact would have been stronger had the play been tighter, and delved deeper into character.
The Government Inspector 2022
A Comedy of Corruption
Inspired by Nikolai Gogol’s Classic Play “Revisor”
By Ilan Hatzor; Director: Ilan Ronen; Set and Costume Design: Svetlana Breger; Music: Shaul Besser; Lighting Design: Ziv Voloshin; Choreography: Sharon Gal; Assistant Director: Ruty Gefen; Cast (in order of appearance): Erez Shafrir – Oscar Peperano, the Mayor; Yehoyachin Friedlander – Avraham Tsuker, Treasurer; Yossi Eini – Rabbi Yitshak Mishi, Head of Religious Council; Aryeh Tcherner – Nahman Tush, Head of Education and Tzion, motel owner; Carmit Mesilati-Kaplan – Sveta Patishi, Legal Adviser; Shachar Netz – Ya’akov Posta, Head of Sanitation; Nir Ron – Sasson Moradov, City Inspector; Yoav Hyman – Sasson Davidov, City Inspector; Vitali Friedland – Nimrod Shahar (Forfera), Gambler and Imposter; Itay Szor – Moshe Sharshur, his friend; Odelya Moreh-Matalon – Luna Peperano, the Mayor’s wife; Nitsan Levartovsky – Nofit Peperano, the Mayor’s daughter