NEW YORK—The source for playwright Charles Morey’s Figaro, now holding forth onstage at the Pearl Theatre Company’s comfortable new digs on West 42nd Street, goes back in time to Pierre Beaumarchais’s 1778 farce Le Mariage de Figaro, which led to Mozart’s melodious 1786 opera.
But Mr. Morey’s current spin makes some timely political points and, just as importantly, offers the opportunity for some entertaining hijinks performed by a troupe of top-notch performers, led by Sean McNall in the pivotal central role.
Basically, the wily servant Figaro (McNall) must exert all his efforts to prevent his employer, the lecherous Count Almaviva (Chris Mixon), from having his way with his, Figaro’s, luscious fiancée, fellow servant Suzanne (Jolly Abraham), whom Figaro is set to wed the next day.
Of course, numerous intrusions and complications dot the proceedings. Older noblewoman Marceline (Robin Leslie Brown) would like Figaro for herself. Countess Almaviva (Joey Parsons), furious with her husband for his two-timing inclinations, wants to get even and later changes costumes with Suzanne to make her point.
A very young, slightly built male servant, Cherubin (Ben Charles), temporarily changes gender by donning a dress in order to accomplish his own amorous desires. There is also the flighty maid Fanchette (Tiffany Villarin), flitting about and not understanding directions.
Filling in any gaps in the plot are the stuffy Doctor Bartholo (Dan Daily) and the versatile Brad Heberlee, who plays three characters, the most delightful of whom is a stuttering judge who is so short that he must sit on a stack of thick legal tomes in order to appear suitably authoritative.
Figaro, addressing the audience (as he does frequently throughout the play), explains that because he wrote a book sometime back suggesting that the rich should pay more taxes than the poor, speculators should be responsible for their own losses, and government ministers should not accept gifts from wealthy merchants, he was imprisoned.
After his release he decided that the best course for him was to become a thief and trickster. The playwright and director Hal Brooks have cleverly trod a fine line between the older traditional style and a more contemporary theatrical approach.
Modern audiences are more accepting of somewhat antisocial ideas in the theater than were some people in earlier times. In 18th century France, King Louis XVI banned performances of Beaumarchais’s attacks on the aristocracy until six years after Le Mariage de Figaro was written.
Director Brooks keeps the top spinning, as the excellent cast romps through its chores.
It’s a bit unfair to pick favorites among the performers, most of whom are members of the Pearl’s resident company, but standouts for me were Sean McNall, who is always alert and intelligent in his portrayals, and Chris Mixon, who mixes just the right amount of sliminess and a rather appealing, though silly, self-righteousness as the Count.
Jo Winiarski’s vividly colored set of pink, blue, and gold helps make the point that what we see onstage is purely make-believe and is complemented by Barbara A. Bell’s overblown period costumes.
Figaro is a delightful, lighthearted show with some food for thought, continuing the Pearl’s mission to present classical plays in New York.
555 West 42nd Street
Tickets: 212-563-9261 or visit www.pearltheatre.org
Running Time: 2 hours
Closes: Dec. 2
Diana Barth writes and publishes “New Millennium,” an arts publication. For information: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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