Wednesday, November 28, 2012

“Figaro” - Quite Simply, A Winner

By Judd Hollander
Photos by Jacob J. Goldberg

Tasting like a delicious farcical soufflé, with a side offering of ribald humor and heaping helpings of tongue twisters and circular logic tossed in, The Pearl Theatre Company's presentation of Beaumarchais' 1778 play Le Mariage de Figaro, entitled here simply Figaro, is a delightful treat. Wonderfully adapted – actually freely adapted, according to the press notes - by Charles Morey, the production offers satirical attacks on the upper class, the courts and the legal system in general – all served up with a generous amount of winks to the audience.

In 18th Century Spain, Figaro (Sean McNall), a servant in the employee of Court Almavia (Chris Mixon), is engaged to Suzanne (Jolly Abraham), the love of his life and handmaiden to the Countess Almavia (Joey Parsons). Though in order for Figaro and Suzanne to wed, the Count must first sign the marriage documents, and before he does that he expects to receive an intimate favor from Suzanne, a woman he has long had his eye on.

Undaunted by this turn of events, Figaro, who always has an idea or two up his sleeve, concocts a plan to fool the Duke and make things right. However Figaro's machinations are continually upset by numerous unforeseen circumstances. Such as Cherubin (Ben Charles), a somewhat younger, mealy-mouthed member of the staff with an eye for the ladies, and who is particularly enamored with the Countess, not to mention having a more physical relationship with Fanchette (Tiffany Villarin), the gardener's daughter. Figaro also has to deal with Marceline (Robin Leslie Brown), an older woman who wishes to marry him, as well as Brazile (Brad Heberlee), the Count's scheming associate, who wants to wed Marceline.

With everyone having an ulterior motive and no one wanting to be caught in the act by the others, the various characters must resort to hiding in closets, cowering under sofas, and jumping out of windows, all accompanied by mistaken identities galore. The show also offers twist upon twist and one unexpected turn after another. Indeed, even when it appears that things are finally untangled – after a hilarious legal encounter – there are still some cards that must be played, for while one couple or two may be happy, there are others who are yet not and in trying to help those unhappy, the ones who are happy may find themselves becoming unhappy once again before all is resolved to the happiness of some, but perhaps not all.

Great credit must go to Hal Brooks' direction in not letting this rollicking ride go completely off the rails. With most of the characters being larger than life and situations that are often over the top, or under the sofa as it were, Brooks is able to keep the show at least somewhat grounded in reality while allowing the actors to have great fun with their roles and keep things moving at pretty good clip. At the same time, he is also able to skillfully blend the show's humor, with its underlying message about the follies of the male sex, and the numerous in-jokes and asides to the audience while never taking the story into the realm of parody.

McNall does a wonderful turn as Figaro, a supremely self-confident individual with a rather interesting past. Something about an incident on Seville, an encounter that one could make an opera out of, he muses as one point. Also look for his story about a handbag. Some of his explanations are hilarious as he talks his way out of one showdown after another, all with a continuous matter-of-fact attitude and an ability to think on his feet; with a little help from Suzanne every so often. Yet Figaro is not completely without  failings, such as a bit of jealousy, which might ultimately prove his undoing.

Abraham is great fun as Suzanne, matching Figaro verbal joust for joust at times, with the love between the characters apparent and with McNall and Abraham having strong chemistry together. Suzanne may also be the wisest character in the play, noting time and again how "men are so stupid", and being able to exploit their moral weak points to her advantage and the advantage of those she tries to aid.

Parsons strikes the right combination of humor and pathos as the Countess, a woman desperately in love with her husband, a man who has apparently fallen out of love with her. At the same time, the Countess is every inch a woman and not above enjoying the flattery of Cherubin; Charles doing a nice job as the hapless young man who just wants to have fun without dealing too much with the responsibilities that go with such actions.

Mixon is nicely officious as the Count, a person whose manner screams for a comeuppance; while Heberlee, in addition to his work as Brazile, does delightful double duty as Antonio, a perennially drunken farmer, and Radisson, a somewhat hard of hearing toady of a judge – the latter acting as a showcase for some of Beaumarchais' feelings about the state of the legal system at the time.

Jo Winiarski's set is nicely scrumptious, especially the dark reds used in the beginning of the story, and the period costumes by Barbara A. Bell are enjoyable to look at.

Good for much more than one hoot, holler and belly laugh, with a moral lesson to be told, this production of Figaro is a clear winner from start to finish and a good way for The Pearl to kick off their 2012-2013 theatre season.


Featuring Sean McNall (Figaro), Jolly Abraham (Suzanne), Dan Dailey (Doctor Bartholo), Robin Leslie Brown (Marceline), Chris Mixon (Court Almavia), Ben Charles (Cherubin/Doublemain), Brad Heberlee (Bazile/Antonio/Bridoison), Joey Parsons (Countess Almavia), Tiffany Villarin (Fanchette)

Freely adapted from Le Mariage de Figaro by Beaumarchais
by Charles Morey
Directed by Hal Brooks
Scenic Design: Jo Winiarski
Costume Design: Barbara A. Bell
Lighting Design: Stephen Petrilli
Sound Design: Jane Shaw
Dramaturg: Kate Farrington
Production Stage Manager: Dale Smallwood
Fight Director: Rod Kinter
Production Manager and Technical Director: Gary Levinson

Presented by The Pearl Theatre Company
555 West 42nd Street
Tickets: 212-563-9261 or
Running Time: Two Hours, 15 Minutes, including one intermission
Closes: December 2, 2012

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