Play for the Ages

June 1, 2006
Kleptakov regales townspeople with tales of his imaginary adventures as Inspector General in Washington, left to right, Matt Hooks, Edward Wardle, Ross Buckley, Martin Zimmerman, Jacqueline Langheim, Mike Ayers, Erica Bossen, Madeleine Lambert, Matthew Patrick, Marshall Botvinick

Kleptakov regales townspeople with tales of his imaginary adventures as Inspector General in Washington, left to right, Matt Hooks, Edward Wardle, Ross Buckley, Martin Zimmerman, Jacqueline Langheim, Mike Ayers, Erica Bossen, Madeleine Lambert, Matthew Patrick, Marshall Botvinick. Les Todd

The Special Prosecutor, Jody McAuliffe's new translation and adaptation of Nikolai Gogol's nineteenth-century comedy The Inspector General, ran at Duke's Sheafer Theater April 6-15.

In the original, a government official is rumored to be arriving in a small town, and the news puts local officials in a frenzy. They mistake a nobody for the important somebody they're expecting, and the result is a raucous comedy.

The imposter Kleptakov (Mike Ayers), left, solicits bribe from Thuddy Dullard (Edward Wardle)

The imposter Kleptakov (Mike Ayers), left, solicits bribe from Thuddy Dullard (Edward Wardle). Les Todd

McAuliffe, a professor of theater studies and Slavic and Eurasian studies who also directed the play, changed the setting from 1836 Russia to the contemporary U.S. and the inspector general to a special prosecutor. But she didn't have to alter the original story of hubris, incompetence, and corruption run amok in government to make the play timely for twenty-first-century theatergoers.

"The play becomes more relevant every day, as news of eavesdropping and shameless bribery and posing and manipulation continues to hit the papers," says McAuliffe. "[Gogol's] play is about humanity--not about a Russian town a long time ago. We're seeing the same things now because Gogol understood that the bad behavior of government officials is innate if humans are left to their own devices."

Duke theater-studies alumnus Jim Findlay '89, now designer for the distinguished New York Wooster Group, designed the set, and pulsoptional, a composers' collective directed by visiting assistant professor of music Marc Faris, contributed the music.