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A.C.T. comedy directed by Carey Perloff a big stinker

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Through April 20. Tickets are $17-$82; call 749-2228 or visit www.act-sf.org.
American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), S.F.

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Hailed as Russia's most beloved comedy and newly translated by "Britain's greatest living satirist" Alistair Beaton, the American Conservatory Theater has loaded the cast of The Government Inspector with, as its press release states, the "Bay Area's best-loved comic actors." With all this comedic firepower behind this production, written by Nikolai Gogol (The Overcoat) in 1836, audiences should be grabbing their sides and peeing their pants. Unfortunately, this production is painfully unfunny. Set in a small provincial Russian town, the simple, one-joke plot revolves around a group of wildly corrupt officials mistakenly identifying a buffoonish tourist as a government employee come to inspect their shabby village. The mayor (Graham Beckel) and his cronies spend close to three hours of stage time outrageously bending over backward to appease and bribe the visitor (a skilled Gregory Wallace). It's unclear whether the frustrating lack of humor is a result of the direction or the script. Beaton's translation is endlessly repetitive, as though the easy plot points were being aimed at a bunch of grade-schoolers with short-term memory loss. Carey Perloff directs the action in a very presentational fashion, having the actors often play to the audience. This is dangerous for comedy, and feels one step away from wheeling out a drum kit so they can play a rim shot after every obvious joke. A.C.T. has missed the target badly on this one.

 
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