Author: Pierre-Augustin de Beaumarchais
At: Remy Bumppo Theatre, Greenhouse
Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln
Phone: 773-404-7336; $40-$55
Runs through: Jan. 4
Director Jonathan Berry has assembled a highly skilled and attractive cast for this fast farce rendition of Beaumarchais's famous comedy, first produced in 1784 and basis for the even more famous Mozart-Da Ponte opera. However, the original play was more comedy of manners than farce and, unlike its predecessor, The Barber of Seville, it also had a significant political edge which this adaptation by Ranjit Bolt dulls. Bolt eliminates significant characters and a major subplot satirizing the French legal system.
In The Barber of Seville, the clever factotum Figaro helps the dashing young Count of Almaviva woo and wed Rosina. In the sequel, the count is chasing everything in skirts except the countess, and now intends to seduce Suzanne, the countess's maid who is engaged to Figaro. Although disinterested in the countess, Almaviva nonetheless is insanely jealous of his adolescent page, Cherubin, who's infatuated with her. A series of plots and counterplots ends with the count shamed and chastened, and even Figaro is taken by surprise. Powerful stuff on the brink of the French Revolution, the play shows commoners Figaro and Suzanne outsmarting a nobleman of inherited privileges and rank ( albeit with the help of his wife ) , while Figaro—in a famous monologue—says the aristocracy is superior only by accident of birth, rather than by merit.
Beaumarchais himself was a shrewd, witty and ambitious scoundrel who rose from the artisan middle class to the aristocracy through talent, craft, marriages to powerful older widows, spying, war profiteering, financial speculation and the slashing power of his words. Seemingly egalitarian—he supported the American Revolution, legally challenged French vested interests and created an author's union—he nonetheless curried favor with kings Louis XV and XVI and barely survived the French Revolution in one piece. Little of this is apparent in the play, although the basic Beaumarchais political message remains intact if watered down.
The Remy Bumppo production is a frothy 90 minutes performed by an ensemble of superior comic skill: the impeccable comic actor Joe Dempsey as Almaviva, the refined and well-groomed Nick Sandys as Figaro, multi-layered Mary Beth Fisher as the Countess and Kate Cares as a sparkling Suzanne. Greg Matthew Anderson's scene-stealing turn as Cherubin rivals them all.
Setting the play near Paris in 1952—vs. 1780s Seville, Spain—allows costume designer Alison Siple to display exquisite Eisenhower-era designer gowns, as director Berry choreographs delightful scene changes to period jazz ( post-1952 but close enough ) . However, the time choice is arbitrary as is Nick Sandys's use of a London working-class accent. Admittedly well-executed, they nonetheless are anomalies that don't illuminate the play. But take it as is, for The Marriage of Figaro rarely is produced in the United States in any version, let alone one as stylish as this.