The Government Inspector: “A Comedy of Errors”
The beginning of the year is an inevitably stressful time, filled with math tests and history papers, new teachers and changing expectations. Hoping to transport the members of Packer’s community out of their busy worlds and into a theatrical whirlwind of mishaps, Ali Boag, Arts Department Head, has been working to direct and produce a “comedy of errors” that will be performed this fall.
On November first, second, and third, Upper School actors will transform the Pratt Theater into Packer’s production of The Government Inspector, an 1836 play originally directed by Nikolai Gogol.
When the citizens of a small Russian town receive word that an inspector will be arriving to investigate the area, they frantically attempt to cover up any offenses. This rush to conceal is interrupted by the arrival of Ivan Khlestakov, the man suspected of being the inspector himself, inspiring a manic effort among the townspeople to impress him.
Mr. Boag’s decision to put on this show was based on a number of factors, many of them having to do with our country’s current political climate, along with the question of equity in theater.
“It’s a really large cast, it’s very funny, and it’s able to be cast in a very fluid way,” he said. “It’s also kind of relevant—you know, it’s about corruption and greed and mistaken identity and all those kinds of things.”
The spring musical of the 2017-18 school year, The Drowsy Chaperone, sparked some conversation around how the theater department should handle casting with regard to ability, diversity, and priority.
“I think that with casting, in general, it can be difficult because someone could be really good but not right for the role,” said Honor Stringer (‘19), who plays Anna Andreyevna, the governor’s wife.
Mr. Boag has always tried to balance talent and opportunity, and this year especially, the play is composed of a diverse cast with talented actors from all grades of Packer’s Upper School.
“Every part was bent gender-wise and race-wise,” said Dylan Fineman (‘20), who plays Khlestakov. “There are a lot of lead parts played by people of color and women who are playing roles typically played by men. Part of Mr. Boag’s goal is to make the best show possible, so he casts whomever he thinks will do the best job. And that is the only thing that goes into casting.”
Some have questioned this decision, though, in that many of Packer’s older, more eminent actors were given smaller parts, which strays from the norm of seniority and experience taking precedence in the casting process. Talia Hartman-Sigall (‘20), who played the lead in The Drowsy Chaperone, was cast as an ensemble member in this year’s production.
“After some thinking, I understand Mr. Boag’s motives and it makes sense to me that he spread the wealth,” said Talia. “There are a lot of people who often get bigger roles—like me, which I am grateful for—but there are also a ton of talented people who don’t get the opportunity.”
Although some were quick to jump to the conclusion that Mr. Boag had ulterior motives, Talia and Packer’s other staple actors have come to terms with the casting choices and support the actors that landed larger roles.
Commenting on the role of comedy in contending with today’s reality, Mr. Boag said that “the world, at the moment, is a place where people reform themselves through seriousness and through slightly aggressive acts, so I think, without being pompous, the idea that laughter can play a role in making things better is something that we should hold onto fondly.”
Last year’s musical was also a comedy, though some of the satire backfired when members of the Packer community began to discuss whether its usage in the show was antiquated or offensive.
Because of the content and cast of this year’s play, Mr. Boag hopes that the humor in this year’s production will be more effective in reducing the sting of the stress that is often felt at Packer.
Ethan Paul (‘21), who plays the leading role of the governor, explained that he thinks the message of the play connects to America’s current political state.
“The message of the show at the time is also really relevant now because it talks about the flaws within the government,” he said. “It’s all really about this metaphor for Russia being applicable as a metaphor for America.”
As the story unfolds, the connections between the corruption of this small, 19th-century town in Russia and the corruption we are currently facing as a country will become increasingly clear.
“The truth of the matter is rather different from how it appears initially,” said Mr. Boag. “Everybody bends over backwards to accommodate this man before the appalling truth dawns on them at the end of the play.”To learn the details of this “appalling truth,” buy tickets to see The Government Inspector. Along with Dylan, Ethan, Honor, and Talia, the play will star over 20 gifted actors from all Upper School grades, so it is bound to be an incredible display of talent.