Inspector’s laugh barrel too full

“The Government Inspector” ends the fall season for the Department of Theater and Dance in a blaze of smoke and fury. A classic Russian satire transformed into wacky Wild West farce; the show storms the stage in true gunslingin’ cowboy fashion with both pistols flying high. While the play hits some of its marks, it also fires off a few blanks.

The show is set in a dusty Western town filled with crooked officials, nitwit hillbillies and sexually frustrated maids and matrons. When greasy, shifty Mayor Seawall (Timothy Rhoades) finds out a disguised government inspector is being sent to examine his less-than-pristine town, he panics and orders his equally corrupt city officials to clean up their respective acts -pronto. At the same time, he learns that a well-dressed stranger (Cary Davenport) has been staying at the hotel for the past two weeks.

Lots and lots of jokes, hijinks, near shoot-outs, adulterous flirtations, comedic asides and senseless bribery ensue.

It’s too much to take in and it’s slightly head-swirling.

This adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s 19th century condemnation of government corruption is the brainchild of Northern Kentucky University student playwright Jonathon Pernisek, who also performs as postman “Smitty Simpson.”

Pernisek took Gogol’s work scene-by-scene and created his own original dialogue. Directed by theater professor Mike King, the show fits too many laughs into too much time. Before you have enough time to give a hearty chuckle to the first slapstick antic, another one’s on its way.

At two hours and 40 minutes, including intermission, the laughs taper off midway through the second act.

And while the performers do a good job of keeping their energy up while wading through massive amounts of dialogue, the satire gets lost somewhere in the shuffle from joke to joke.

The play has potential to make a great commentary on modern government corruption, especially given the similarities between Mayor Seawall’s Western twang and President George W. Bush’s Texas drawl. That message was pretty clear in the first act, but once the intermission’s over, it’s lost in endless attempts for laughs.

For all this, though, the show is funny – most of the time. The characters’ personalities are diverse and hilarious. Ricky William Glore is the pitiful, hunched-over, timid, perve of a school official

“Luke Plainscape,” while Tripp Hampton and David Joseph Rowland are the tooth-missing, giggling, suspender-wielding tag team of “Handy Andy” and “Dandy Andy.” Davenport also does a good job as an opportunistic copying clerk named “Freddy Biggerton.”

While Pernisek’s characters and their antics kept the stage alive, the show would be more enjoyable with half the jokes and twice the action. It shoots in the right direction, but it’s a couple rings away from a bullseye.