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`Government Inspector' Misfires

THE GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR Play by Nikolai Gogol. At the Lyceum Theatre.

NIKOLAI GOGOL'S 1836 farce about a lowly clerk, who is mistaken for an important government inspector and wined and dined accordingly, is not a major play. But it deserves better than its handling by the National Actors Theatre.

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Perhaps this company should stay away from comedy. Its greatest successes, the productions of ``Saint Joan'' and ``Timon of Athens,'' displayed the sure hand of director Michael Langham, but Langham's touch has deserted him here. Slowly paced and staged with a minimum of invention or sprightliness, this production is depressingly flat.

Sadly, a major cause lies in the reason the company exists at all: Tony Randall. This actor is to be commended for the incredible effort involved in bringing this theater to life, but every time he has taken the stage himself the results have been less than fortuitous. As the title character in this production, he is once again terribly miscast. In small doses, Randall can be a wonderfully effective comic performer. Here, carrying the play, he just seems unctuous and his highly mannered and affected performance is at odds with the rest of the company, particularly with David Patrick Kelly, who, as his faithful servant, is a delight.

As the police governor who organizes the town, Peter Michael Goetz delivers a fair amount of comic bluster, but Lainie Kazan as his wife, and Nancy Hower as his daughter (both of whom vie for the government inspector's affections) play their characters broadly to the point of caricature. Director Langham seems adrift in tying the stylistic threads together, although his staging does contain some bold and impressive touches, including a scene in which Randall's character is overwhelmed by the misery of the townspeople he is trying to help.

Douglas Stein's settings are deliberately ragged, using the rears of flats in all their ramshackle ugliness, and creating a tension that mirrors the uneasy charade the government inspector has adopted.

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