Off-Broadway Theater Review: FIGARO (Pearl Theatre)

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by Oliver Conant on November 20, 2012

in Theater-New York


The Pearl Theater’s choice for its first production at its new home on 42nd Street is a new adaptation of Pierre Caron de Beaumarchais’ 1778 play The Marriage of Figaro.  In many ways it is an inspired one, and should please both the audiences who filled Pearl’s long time home in Greenwich Village and newcomers willing to make the extra trek west to 11th Avenue on Theater Row.

The source of one of Mozart’s best-loved comic operas, the play is a combustible mixture of farce, Commedia dell’Arte antics, and social indignation.  The mostly deft and sprightly adaptation by Charles Morey has some meta theatrical and topical touches, there’s lots of direct address and references to opera, and if my ears didn’t deceive me, Count Almaviva, Figaro’s lustful master, is made to say things about immigration that sounded a lot like Mitt Romney during the primaries.

Oliver Conant’s Stage and Cinema Off-Broadway review of Figaro at Pearl Theatre

Beaumarchais’ own contemporaries were quick to recognize and appreciate the political implications of The Marriage of Figaro. In her excellent program notes, production dramaturge Kate Farrington quotes both the revolutionary Georges Danton, who said “Figaro killed the aristocracy,” and King Louis XVI himself, who declared that “only the fall of the Bastille could be a more dangerous event than The Marriage of Figaro.

This production succeeds in conveying the revolutionary spirit of the play, although at times the underscoring seems a bit heavy handed, as when Figaro is made to hum the “Marseillaise” as he shaves his master with a giant blade. For the most part, however, both Mr. Morey and Director Hal Brooks skirt such obvious anachronism and manage to convey with freshness and amusement the wit and vitality of the original.

Oliver Conant’s Stage and Cinema Off-Broadway review of Figaro at Pearl Theatre

That Figaro works as well as it does is due to the highly talented actors—as befits a resident ensemble—who all seem to be thoroughly enjoying themselves. Sean McNall, unflappably commanding in the title role, and Jolly Abraham as his feisty, beloved Suzanne, are charming, fast-talking embodiments of the scheming servants whose triumph is all the more joyful for being so continually imperiled.

Their various antagonists are all played superbly, starting from the bewigged Count himself, a wonderfully haughty Chris Mixon. Robin Leslie Brown and Dan Daily are convincing as the sour and pompous Marceline and Doctor Bartholo, holdovers from Beamarchais’ first installment of Figaro’s adventures, The Barber of Seville, here serving to complicate the already entangled schemes and stratagems with their own outrageous designs.

Oliver Conant’s Stage and Cinema Off-Broadway review of Figaro at Pearl Theatre

Tiffany Villarin and Ben Charles take on comic ingénue parts, the flirty, dopey Fanchette and the young swain Cherubin, who, as often as not dressed as a girl, at one time or another makes love to everyone. Of particular note is Joey Parsons, who imbues what could have been the thankless role of the Countess with just the right balance of bewilderment and pride, and the company chameleon, Brad Heberlee, who plays Bazille, a falsely humble hireling of the Count Antonio, a drunken gardener, and Bridoison, a stuttering judge.

The pop baroque set, all bright clashing colors and splashes of gilt paint, is by Jo Winiarski and the witty costumes by Barbara A. Bell.

Oliver Conant’s Stage and Cinema Off-Broadway review of Figaro at Pearl Theatre

photos by Jacob J. Goldberg

Figaro, adapted from Beaumarchais’ The Marriage of Figaro
Pearl Theatre (555 West 42nd Street, NYC)
extended through December 2, 2012
for tickets, call 212.563.9261 or visit

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