For its opening production at its new home on West 42nd Street, the Pearl Theatre Company has turned to Charles Morey's Figaro, an modern-sounding, winking adaptation of Beaumachais' The Marriage of Figaro. And -- as fans of the play and the Mozart opera it inspired surely know -- one can always count on the machinations of the wily title character – along with his fiancé – to inspire some laughs. Still, the requisite merriment comes only fitfully in Hal Brooks' frenzied comic book-like staging.
The heavy-handedness of the piece becomes apparent as soon as we encounter Sean McNall's winning, but slightly too poised, Figaro, and Jolly Abraham's pert, mischievous, and just a little "street" Suzanne. The two performers race through their exposition about their impending nuptials and the "romantic" designs of their master, the lasciviously oily Count Almaviva (an amusing, but overly muggy, Chris Mixon).
The pace only accelerates once they're been joined by Marceline (imbued with a snippy, dry hauteur by Robin Leslie Brown), an older woman who has her own amorous eye turned toward Figaro, and Doctor Bartholo (the always reliable Dan Daily), a fuddy-duddy quack who once fathered a child out of wedlock with her. And while Figaro schemes to undermine the Count's plots to bed Suzanne, Marceline sets her own designs in motion to get the boy of her dreams.
The action is only further revved up by the hurly-burly assignations that another servant, Cherubin (Ben Charles, who has a certain angelic childishness about him), attempts to make, and by the plots that the Countess (Joey Parsons) lays – with the help of Suzanne – to catch her husband in his adulterous love-making.
This is hardly subtle stuff in anyone's hands, but there's a bluntness to Morey writing that makes the action curiously unfunny. Nor does it help that all of the performers suffer from a propensity to shout their lines. The one notable exception is a sequence where the Count has called in a stuttering judge (a multiply cast Brad Heberlee) to determine whether Figaro is legally bound to marry Marceline. Here, McNall and Daily share an exchange that sparkles with the kind of delicacy that would benefit the entire undertaking.
The production's cartoonish tone is underscored by scenic designer Jo Winiarski's garish recreation of an ornate French interior in which Dayglo fuschia, lemon yellow, and bright turquoise brush up against one another painfully -- and are ill-complemented by a puce glow (courtesy of lighting designer Stephen Petrilli) that frequently emanates from behind the set.
Fortunately, costume designer Barbara A. Bell provides some visual relief with lavish 18th-century costumes that are primarily in earthtones. However, a pink gown that she has provided for the countess clashes with everything on the stage. Like much of this show, it's what we today would call a hot mess!
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