What do you do if you’ve been mistaken for a prestigious government official?
You milk the situation for all it’s worth.
That’s what the central character in the Guild Theatre’s latest production, the Man from the Capital does.
The Guild musical riffs on an age-old theme of corrupt politicians who behave badly.
It’s based on a Russian play written by Nikolai Gogol in 1836 called The Government Inspector.
Canadian playwright Colin Heath lifted the story from its original tsarist Russian setting and dropped it in fictional Salmon Elbow, British Columbia, during the Depression. John Millard adds the music.
“It takes place in an isolated hick town,” said director Todd Duckworth. He admits the made-up-name “kind of takes the mickey out of Salmon Arm.”
Before Gogol even wrote the play he had been itching to write a comedy based on an authentic Russian anecdote. That’s when he came upon a story from fellow writer, Alexander Pushkin, who was himself mistaken by a corrupt mayor as a visiting government official.
Using the situation to his advantage, Pushkin tries to woo the mayor’s daughter while the mayor’s wife insists on flirting with him.
Gogol toyed with that idea to a create a piece that satirizes unscrupulous Russian officials.
“Our play is a bit less cynical and lighter than Gogol’s,” said Duckworth.
But it’s still just as relevant, he added.
It may not be a real story, but it’s one that could very well have happened here in Canada.
“We still read constantly of people in power lining their pockets with government money,” he said.
In the Man from the Capital, the town of Salmon Elbow is falling apart and vagrants and hobos line the streets.
The mayor and his cronies use government money to build a giant pig to attract tourists instead of constructing what the town really needs, an orphanage.
That’s when a tramp is mistaken for a government inspector who has come to investigate the situation.
Worried about what the inspector might do, the mayor literally stuffs the tramp’s pockets with money and lets his lusty wife at him.
But the gig only lasts so long, hinted Duckworth.
The show is the second time Duckworth has been involved in a production of the Man from the Capital.
The first time, he played the mayor in a 2002 Caravan Theatre production of the show. That was followed by a reprisal of the role in 2007 for the opening of the Great Canadian Theatre Company in Ottawa where he lives.
Coming from Ottawa to direct the play came with its own bit of comedy, said Duckworth.
“There was a joke among the cast that I’m the man from the capital coming here to direct a show called the Man from the Capital,” he said with a laugh.
The Whitehorse version of the musical will be slightly different than the one Duckworth acted in a few years ago. That’s because the director must contend with the smaller Guild Theatre space.
It’s especially a challenge because of the large cast of 24 actors and on-stage musicians, many of whom share the stage at the same time.
Actor Eric Epstein, who has known Duckworth since they met in theatre school, plays the role of the malevolent mayor. It will be his last role as artistic director for the Guild.
Other performers include Bronwyn Jones, Carrie Anne Bruton, Doug Mayr and Roy Ness.
The show features Kim Barlow on banjo, Bryden Baird on trumpet, Graham Peters on pump organ and Colleen McCarthy on euphonium.
The Man from the Capital runs until April 24 at the Guild Theatre. Shows are at 8 p.m. Tickets are $18 and $20.
Contact Vivian Belik at