Unlike the histories of painting and music, always available to their devotees in concert halls and art galleries where the theories and developments of technique are constantly on display, the history of the drama is a cloudy one to most theatre-goers. Only in reading old plays can the drama lover understand how the theatre has arrived at its present state of realism, verging now towards presentationalism. But reading a play does not recapture the style of the acting or of the settings or give any of the flavor that might have made it a great success in its day and a significant milestone in theatrical history.
There should be more revivals of these important landmarks, but revivals that try to retain the spirit of the play as actually written. Exigencies of the commercial and amateur theatre too often prevent such revivals, for box-office returns are founded on "names," and most of the fore-runners of the modern drama are unknown outside classrooms. It is a pleasure, then, to see the current production of the Harvard Dramatic Club, Nikolai Gogol's "The Inspector General." This semi-realistic social comedy, first produced in 1936, influenced all the later Russian playwrights and also those of Germany, Norway, and England late in the 19th century. With acute local perception and yet a vast universality of theme Gogol exposes the corruption and bribery that pervaded the local government of Russia in his time and does it so well that the comedy has stood ever since as the classic exposure of political chicanery. The characters are drawn with a broad stroke; the situations are none too subtle, but both combine in a supple, side-splitting farce.