At first blush, the story of The Inspector General calls to mind the term "Potemkin village." But there's much more to it than that. Considered one of the best comedies of all time, it's set in a small Russian town that falls into chaos upon hearing an inspector general from St. Petersburg will audit it.
"They're terrified that he will not like what they're doing," says Kevin Landis, head of the theater program at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. "So they set to work spiffying up the town when they find out the man is there."
The Inspector General is one part of UCCS' upcoming "Russian Spring," a series of plays, lectures and events that Landis formed with TheatreWorks' artistic director, Murray Ross.
"Murray and I each selected shows that, by happenstance, were Russian classics," says Landis. "We're always looking for thematic elements in our season to draw people in." (Fortune struck again, says Landis, when they realized the season coincided with Maslenitsa, a Russian festival that encourages melting snow and an early spring.)
The Inspector General, by 19th-century satirist and novelist Nikolai Gogol, was Landis' selection; Ross chose The Seagull by Anton Chekhov. Both Landis and Ross will participate in the project's other component, a three-part lecture series also featuring Russian scholar and Tufts University professor Laurence Senelick.
Of his choice, which will be performed by UCCS students, Landis says, "It's a very simple story, but beautifully written."
Especially once the inspector is found out to be something else altogether, and the chaos ends with the most famous line from the play.
"The play is kind of disturbing, in a grotesque way," says Landis. "It removes so many of the masks that we put up and exposes human beings for the sheep that they are. You're laughing through it but you're thinking to yourself, 'I do that, too.'"