SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) - Theatre Director, Albina Matuzko, took theatre on St. Maarten to another level last weekend with her staging of the Russian Classic, The Government Inspector, at the Cultural Center, Backstreet, June 15, 16, and 17.
The director’s experimentation with the much loved and oft performed play may well have seemed to have been foolhardy and bold at the same time. As she explained to three sets of audiences on all three days, the passage of Hurricane Irma in September last year, shortly after auditions were held for players, should have been the first sign for her to give up her quest to stage such an epic.
She was however moved by the enthusiasm of her players and supported by set-director and partner, Cor Sikkes, they plodded on together, overcoming one obstacle and one challenge after another until their literal explosion on stage this past weekend.
Albina’s bold experiment was how to take a Russian classic, with all its vagaries of language and meaning, and nuance of character, and retro-fit it for a St. Maarten audience that would patient enough to sit through two-hours of non-stop action. Her target was not only the “usual” theatregoers and theatre lovers on the island, but also the plethora of other nationalities to whom such a play would have little meaning, let alone enjoyment.
For this latter group, a night out at the theatre should be devoid of any cultural indoctrination and lecturing, and should only be a good old helping of Belly-bust laugh that would help them escape from their regular lives and problems, for about an hour and not much more.
So it was indeed a pleasure to see such diversity of persons and enthusiastic participation of audiences on all three nights at the showing of The Government Inspector at the now aging Cultural Center.
While I can agree with the Director in her preamble to the audience that with a cast of 17, some of whom are local and it was assumed would also bring their own “crowd”, and that bringing in a diverse audience would be easier, I also believe it goes much deeper than that. It goes to the very root of what brings a community together to laugh at themselves, to recognize their own shortcomings and hopes and dreams.
Despite the classic and international nature of the Nikolai Gogol literary masterpiece is was still the recognizable quips, about “The Dump”, “40 cartloads of gravel still missing since the Hurricane” that rang home and met with laughter from this grateful audience, well tuned to the subtleties of the story unfolding before them and the comparisons they could easily draw to their own situations on St. Maarten today.
Looking at the audience, hearing their laughter and their reactions afterwards, Albina Matuzko’s experiment worked beautifully and may have created a bridge to theatre appreciation and participation that up to now has eluded even the most respected theater directors of the past and present.
The plot of the plays centers around the roughish character, Ivan Alexsandrovich Khlestakov, who comes into a provincial town that has upped its game on corruption and scheming to such a level that an Inspector General has been called in to carry out an investigation.
Thinking that their visitor is the true government official, they set about greasing his palms and generally making fools of themselves, even going so far as to invite him into their homes where he is wined and dined and takes the fancy of the governor’s wife and daughter to whom he proposes.
The cad leaves town with all his booty before his true identity is revealed, leaving his betrothed devastated and the villagers…well, a little less better off for cash. There is a realization of Horror when a deep toned voice announces the arrival of the real Government Inspector who has called everyone to the Inn to atone their sins.
The story is brilliantly told in comic and clownish fashion by Director Matuzko using imaginative costumes and scenery that moves on wheels (why didn’t anyone thing of that before?). There are even shows within shows throughout to keep the audience attention as the classic tale chugs along.
The technical quality and precision of choreography in the pre-bride and bribe scenes, could truly have been of the quality of a Broadway or London stage performance. It was also highly appreciated by audiences on all three days, making this all the more exciting and rewarding for the players.
It calls on all the skills of lead actors Joe Dominique, who plays The Governor, Anton Antonovich and fellow lead actor Raphael Dorra, who plays the rougish devil Khalestakov. Dominique, a well-known journalist and visual artist on St. Maarten, filled the stage with an exuberant and bubbling air that was equally mirrored by the stunning performances of all fellow cast members who each played their part to perfection.
Those in the local theatre fraternity, were treated to a return to the SXM stage for Shirley Sibony (who played the part of Stepanida Illinishna, the drunken guard and long-time friend of the governor) and hopefully we will see more of her on stage again in the future.
Mr. Dorra was masterful in his role as the visiting rogue. His take on the character was so believable, it’s hard you are only left to wonder if there isn’t something of that mischievousness in Mr. Dorra himself. His love scenes were excellent and guided to sit like a dog at the center of the stage by a squabbling mother and daughter hungry for his attention – the effect is marvelously executed by all.
To single out any one of the characters would be unfair to the entire cast since everyone played an important role in the overall success of the production. All 17 players gave of their best – and in return we can but give them the accolades they truly deserve for a job well done. Bravo! Encore!
THEATRE REVIEW - By anonymous