In a conversation with TSL, the cast of Pomona College’s production “The Government Inspector” discussed the hidden truths that the play unveils. The recluse Russian town where the story takes place represents many challenges students face today, including misogyny, code-switching, and finding one’s voice. Hear what director Giovanni Ortega and the student cast shared behind the scenes about their production.
TSL: What is your character or role in the production of the play?
Giovanni Ortega: I am the director.
Rieanna Duncan PO ’21: I play Svetsunov, who is the police chief. She has a roll-with-the-punches kind of personality. She is a strong character that voices her opinion when needed. This role was traditionally played by men, and we decided to take a spin on it and make her a female.
Aliyah Muhammad PO ’19: I play Ann Andreyevna. She is a mother and the mayor’s wife.
Shringi Diva Vikram SC ’20: I play the postmistress. Which was originally the postmaster. It was just made a female role for this script.
Ben Hogoboom PO ’19: I play Ivan Aleksandrovich Khlestakov.
TSL: What kind of character development takes place for each of your characters?
RD: Svetsunov goes through a journey of trying to figure out what to prioritize. Should I prioritize loyalty? Should I prioritize my own needs and to what standards do I hold the mayor? Am I willing to grab an opportunity when I see it despite the people that are around me?
SDV: My character represents the flow of information and who has access to that information and how that affects the government. As well as how the distortion of media controls the channel of communication.
AM: You see the mayor a lot, but Ann is the backbone and foundation. Truly, she is the boss behind closed doors. Throughout the whole play, she is in a position of power. Internally, she has her own powershift. She is very self-determined. She knows what she wants. Towards the end, she figures out what she is determined towards. She learns that you may not need someone else to create happiness, especially not men. She didn’t know that at first. Internally, mentally, spiritually, she figures out she knows who she is.
SDV: The female characters are much more determined and aware of where they stand than the men. I think this is very consciously portrayed.
BH: Khlestakov is someone who is really at the end of his rope at the beginning of his play. He has lost his job and spent all his money. He is a conman and a swindler, but he is not very good at it. He loses his money trying to be someone he is not. When he comes into this town, he is really ecstatic and gets to be truly his goofy self. As he becomes more successful in his con, he realizes there are bigger things at stake. He uses his con for personal gain and eventually the greater good.
TSL: What is the cultural context of the play and how is it relevant?
RD: Because the play is written for mostly male characters, one thing we do see is how women in power are treated and then flipping that narrative. In today’s society you will see that women have to work twice as hard in powerful positions to just have the amount of respect. In this circumstance you can see Svetsunov put her foot down and she is not looked down upon for being a woman; she is just the police chief … You get to see how class affects people in their lives and limits the things they can do or say.
BH: The context of this play is about two lenses for me. My character is not exactly a great guy, but he is not a bad guy either. From a personal standpoint, Khlestakov is someone searching for meaning, a purpose, a home, and passion. He has really fallen of the wagon and is trying to find his way. I think as a senior who is about to be dropped into a new landscape, it’s not a difficult situation to see yourself in. The second lens is about this town and the people in it. You see terrible implications of self-service and self-centeredness. This play shows bad people being put in high places so they can fall further, and when you look at our government, it’s fun to see them get knocked down a peg.
SDV: The way we treat foreigners is shown here. There is one character that does not speak the same language and there is a kind of foolishness that everyone else on stage associates with her. I am an international student and it took me a long while, linguistically and otherwise, to be okay proclaiming myself in spaces here in the United States. I really like the way this play deals with that.
RD: Throughout this play we also see something called code-switching. Which is interesting, because a lot of us on stage are people of color and this is something we deal with on a daily basis. I think anyone who identifies as a person of color and is standing in predominantly white spaces can empathize with this. It is interesting to put that on stage and bring the audience into this narrative.
AM: Everyone is surviving in this one space and it makes me think of Claremont. It is just so relevant to us. We are all in a certain geographical region. We all hear the same news. We live in a small town. It is interesting to see how far people will go for survival and to keep up a mask.
TSL: How will the Claremont Colleges community be able to connect to the play?
AM: College is a foolish place within itself. You live with a lot of people in close proximity. You get annoyed at little things but then you learn to exist. Gio, from the first rehearsal, has always said, “You all matter.”
RD: The code-switching idea is prevalent. The dichotomy of male and female relationships and how men will treat women very much resembles how things work on campus. Especially because the fact that a lot of women in this play are women of color, and we just have to navigate things differently. This goes for international students as well. You have to constantly defend yourself, your identity, and the fact that you do matter on campus.
SDV: This play is so powerful because I get on stage and I feel more powerful than the men around me. The women are able to bring the men down. Which is great.
GO: Oh, they will relate.