Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: SNC’s ‘Inspector General’ deliciously vicious

Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: SNC’s ‘Inspector General’ deliciously vicious

The 1836 play about corruption is brought to today and flipped upside down.

DE PERE, Wis., (WFRV) – Every form of political corruption you can image gallops through an updated version of “The Inspector General” being presented through Nov. 9 by St. Norbert College Theatre Studies.

The wild and woolly production (4 stars out of 5) takes wicked satire to the point of liberal splashes of wicked “s---” and “f---” language.

What transpires on the Webb Theatre stage has origins in 1836, but you’d never guess it. Were Nikolai Gogol able to look upon Michael Chemers’ adaptation of his play, he’d say “Wha?” (in Russian, of course).

The place is the Wisconsin city of Pittswaukee. The setting is modern, with the mayor busying himself playing video games on his smartphone as his crony-filled cabinet discusses the ethics of spying on emails and such.

Director Stephen Rupsch and his cast pretty much have a blast making caricatures of myriad types of personalities in a governmental idiotocracy. Everyone is on the take.

Jokes are wry plays on words: “As the director of education, I wouldn’t know the meaning of ‘bribe’.”

The St. Norbert production also drops in local references. As the mayor figures waypoints in his administration by community calamities, he asks, “And when did the bridge start sagging?” (Who would have thought not long ago that the Leo G. Frigo Bridge would make its way into a play).

The phrase “subtle satire” does not apply. Everything and everyone is ridiculed. No scandal is left unturned. Early on, the city officials tick off their crimes like they’re making out a grocery list.

The guy everybody thinks has got their number – the mistaken inspector general – is just as cheesy as the rest, and so is the dufus with him.

Milking the send-ups are key players Ryan Penkal as the on-the-take Mayor, Shaina Beckers as his sleep-around wife, Hanna Raczak as their goth daughter, Bryant McCray as the ever-elusive Buttermilk (the “inspector”) and Michael T. O’Malley as Zippo (Buttermilk’s equally amoral sidekick).

Adding to the comic capers are the mayor’s fools, with Sam Evers as the drunken City Controller; Ben Lepak, City Solicitor; Erich Wegenke, the stuttering Superintendent of Schools; Scarlett Pisarek, Lobbyist; Sophie Ahlberg, Communications Director; Andrea Fietzer, Police Chief; Kerry Galvin, Police Sergeant; Kelly Anderson, Frick, and Samantha Kolb, Frack. (Frick and Frack have an especially high wattage between them, making for some remarkable comic routines).

The People of Pittswaukee are played by Sam Evers, Molly Barnes and Caylin Parrish in multiple roles. (Chemers’ satire slinks down to the point that the town wine merchant is Mormon, as if to say there are no morals in this town).

Aurally, background songs play on themes of money.

The set work by April Beiswenger goes to great lengths to make the stage floor look like the marble majesty of a government building, complete with geometric designs of types of marble. The production also changes place, going from the mayor’s office to a hotel room with some trickery with sliding walls. Clever.

A lot about the production is clever.

THE VENUE: The 184-seat Neil and Mary Webb Theatre is the smaller of two theaters in St. Norbert College’s Abbot Pennings Hall of Fine Arts. The Webb stage is one-of-a-kind thrust stage, meaning it “thrusts” into the audience space. A traditional proscenium stage has a flat front and usually has curtains. A trust stage rarely uses curtains. People in front rows can practically reach out and touch performers when the performers are on the stage lip. Any seat in the theater is close to the action.

THE PEOPLE: Neil and Mary Webb were husband and wife. Neil Webb was president of St. Norbert College from 1973 to 1983. He earlier headed the St. Norbert psychology department. He left academics for a while before becoming president of Dominican College in California. In December 1987, Neil and Mary Webb died in an airplane crash in California in an act of sabotage by a disgruntled employee. That was shortly before the Hall of Fine Arts was to be remodeled with a small theater in the plans. Neil Webb had a lot of friends in the community and had the reputation, so his name was used to raise funds for the theater.

You may email me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air features on WFRV at 6:45 p.m. Thursdays and every other Sunday between 6 and 8 a.m. (usually around 7:45 a.m.)

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