The very first West Coast staging of a 2012 World Premiere may not be what folks expect from A Noise Within given the company’s usual slate of Shakespeare, Shaw, Racine, Moliere, and other long-deceased playwrights, but that is precisely what California’s Home For The Classics now offers its audiences in Charles Moray’s Figaro, the frothiest, funniest, most farcical romp I’ve yet seen at ANW.
True, Morey’s English-language French farce is “feely adapted from” Pierre de Beaumarchais’s 1785 comedy Le Mariage De Figaro, which itself was the basis of Mozart’s 1786 opera of the same name, so it’s got its classical creds, but Morey’s adaptation owes more to French farceur par excellence Marc Camoletti than the old masters, and as directed for ANW by Michael Michetti, there’s a good deal of Marx Brothers, Carol Burnett, Mel Brooks, and even Laugh-In-style humor thrown in for good (and by good I mean hilarious) measure.
“Le Mariage” in question is that of Barber-Of-Seville-turned-steward-of-Count-Almaviva Figaro (Jeremy Guskin) to fellow servant Suzanne (Angela Sauer), nuptials that can only be celebrated once the approval of our hero’s employer Monsieur Le Compte (Andrew Ross Wynn) has been secured, his signature finalizing the couple’s engagement and facilitating their wedding post-haste, as in tomorrow morning.
There’s only one hitch. (Actually there are quite a few, but this one is the biggest.) Not only does Count Almaviva have his roving eye set on gardener’s daughter Franchette (Natalie De Luna), he lusts for Suzanne as well, just one hint that the Count’s marriage to Rosine (Elyse Mirto), brought about by none other than Figaro in Le Barbier de Séville, might be on shaky ground.
Other characters include Doctor Bartholo (Alan Blumenfeld), a pompous old sort who still can’t forgive Figaro for having facilitated his ward Rosine’s marriage to the Count when it was he who hoped to wed and/or bed her; aging, man-hungry housekeeper Marceline (Jeanne Sakata), who’d like nothing better than to marry Figaro herself; pixyish Chérubin (Will Bradley), the object of the Countess’s affection, a boy so “in love with love” that he’d be happy to fool around with just about any member of the opposite sex; and a trio of roles brought to life by Joshua Wolf Coleman: foppish music teacher Bazile, rustic gardener (and Franchette’s father) Antonio, and Bridoison, a judge who has pr-pr-pr-problems with his p’s.
In time-honored French-farce tradition, this 18th-century-set bonbon features the very same elements that made Camoletti’s Don’t Dress For Dinner and Boeing-Boeing 1960s and ‘80s delights. There are doors galore (I counted at least five), plenty of hiding spots behind them (and under the sofa), quite a few assumed (and mistaken) identities, several devilishly clever plots and schemes, and a bit of cross-dressing thrown in for good measure.
In addition, though Figaro’s setting may be pre-French-Revolutionary, playwright Morey’s brand of humor could not have a more contemporary flair to it. Give me lines like Suzanne’s “Ah, Marceline, so bitter and yet so … old” or Chérubin’s (looking at the dress he’s been asked to don) “I don’t think pink is my color. I’m more of an ‘autumn,’” ask me to keep a straight face, and in the immortal words of some Soprano or other, “Fuhgeddaboudit.”
Comedies don’t get much more “meta” than Figaro, whose hero not only breaks the fourth wall to chat with us, he’s well aware that we are all of us in a theater and that what’s happening around him is a play based on a classic or two in which he takes on the principal role. For example, when recalling his days as a barber in Seville, Figaro wisecracks, “It would take an Italian opera to describe it.” Later, when Franchette comments, “They kept shouting ‘Figaro this and Figaro that … Figaro, Figaro, Fiii-garo,” the Figaro in question quips to the audience, “You could sing that if you had a tune.”
With the brilliant Michetti in the director’s chair, each and every cast member is on the same deliciously over-the-top page, and though this page may be too over-the-top for some, it suited this reviewer quite nicely indeed, thank you.
Mirto’s breathy-voiced Barbie-doll of a Countess and Sauer’s saucy, sassy Suzanne both display comedic chops, million-dollar legs, and an ability at mimicry that earn audience oohs, aahs, and applause.
Bradley could hardly make for a more appealingly frisky Chérubin, whether in flowered trousers or polka-dotted frock, in addition to his amusing cameo as jurist Doublemain.
Wynn’s mountain of a Count steals scenes right and left as does his Cowardly Lion’s post-dye-job mane, and Sakata’s booming-voiced Marceline reveals the L.A. treasure’s comic gifts as never before.
Speaking of L.A. treasures, they don’t get any more valued than Bluemenfeld, whose Dr. Bartholo is another polished gem.
Last but not least is Coleman’s one-two-three punch of a supporting star turn as three characters so distinctly rendered, you’d almost swear it was three different actors onstage. Coleman’s watermelon scene as Antonio is a particular treat, and you’d better keep your distance whenever Judge Bridoison spits out his latest pr-pr-pronouncement, that is if you can keep a straight face while shielding your face from the spray.
Scenic designer Jeanine A. Ringer’s set and Erin Walley’s imaginative props give Figaro a just-right baroque look under Adam Frank’s striking lighting design, with sound designer Robert Oriol’s original music composition upping the farcical froth … and then some, in addition to underscoring several choreographed scene changes that deserve their own round of applause.
Most cheer-worthy of all are costume designer extraordinaire Angela Balogh Calin’s supremely imaginative mashup of the late 1780s, the mid 2010s, and assorted eras in-between, with special snaps for Rosine’s Ab-Fab Vegas-showgirl ensemble, Figaro and the Count’s rich brocades, and Suzanne’s 1950s-inspired petticoat skirts and saddle shoes/bobby sox. And let’s not forget Gieselle Blair’s fantastically fanciful hair, wig, and makeup design, her Countess Rosine “do” reminding us that Marie Antoinette was Queen when Le Mariage De Figaro debuted.
Elle Aghabala is stage manager and Sarah Poor assistant stage manager. Deserved program credits go also to Maria Uribe (costume shop coordinator), Orlando de la Paz (scenic painter), and Rei Yamamoto, Michael Jones, Selina Woggerman, and Rene Ozvaldo Parras Jr. (assistant scenic painters).
When a theater company for whom “recent” usually means Come Back Little Sheba. Picnic, or The Price stages a 2012 comedy like Figaro, the choice is so contemporary, it seems positively futuristic by comparison with A Noise Within’s accustomed slate of shows.
Figaro is positively fabulous as well.
A Noise Within, 3352 East Foothill Blvd, Pasadena.
April 9, 2015
Photos: Craig Schwartz