This Figaro/Figaro Hits a Few Flat Notes

When the name Figaro is invoked, it usually conjures images of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s magnificent opera The Marriage of Figaro, with its plush sets, sumptuous costumes, and powerful voices raised in song. The (re:) Directions Theatre Company’s production of Eric Overmyer’s Figaro/Figaro keeps the costumes, the names, and a dash of Mozart's music, but there is little else to recommend it to the discriminating theater-goer's eye. Billed as “the New York premiere of Eric Overmeyer’s adaptation of Beaumarchais’ The Marriage of Figaro and Odon von Horvath’s Figaro Gets a Divorce,” this more-than-a-mouthful is about as exciting as it sounds. When presenting adaptations of two different but connected plays as a single evening’s entertainment, a word of advice: make the second one shorter than the first. This can make the night more bearable. In the case of this production, there is not much else that could make it so. The actors did the best job they could on their shaky, very unsolid-seeming set, designed by Jack Blacketer. For the most part youthful and full of enthusiasm, they just could not overcome the inadequacies of Overmeyer's clunky, humorless script and Erin Smiley's stolid, unimaginative direction. The blocking was elementary and mechanical, with actors moving through their paces as if they had been told where to go, having no apparent objective other than that they had to keep moving. The set was symmetrically designed, but not in a good way; rather, it smacked of a lack of inspiration on the part of the designer, or a lack of resources on the part of the company. If it was indeed lack of resources, which is certainly believable in today’s economic climate, then the set was simply too ambitious, and could have used more of a minimalist touch. As it was, it featured four flimsy, evenly spaced arches that looked like they would topple over at the slightest touch, and a cut-out of majestic mountains in the background that did little or nothing to add to the ambience of the show, as well as a set of squeaky steps leading from the mainstage to a narrow upper level. There did not appear to be any rhyme or reason for where characters made entrances and exits, and having a split-level set seemed a sad waste when the upper level could not be worked into the show in a meaningful way, with the exception of a somewhat interesting tableau in the second half of the show.

Some of the performances were quite good, given the limitations imposed on the actors. Ralph Petrarca as the Count Almaviva was particularly interesting, having to rise above the shallow, womanizing stereotype of the first half of the play to become somewhat sympathetic in the second. Likewise, Gillian Wiggin as Figaro’s wife Susanna practically carried the first half of the show on her capable shoulders; unfortunately, as the play continued, she too succumbed to the onerousness of the direction (or lack of) and to the troublesome script. The rest of the company, while enthusiastic, for the most part just seemed to be making the best of a poor situation, happy to keep their heads above water when they could.

If there was any redeeming value to this production, it was in the costume design by David Withrow. The costumes were bright and colorful in the first act, giving way to more muted tones in the darker second act. They were well suited to both the actors and the characters, and were a welcome breath of fresh air in an otherwise stale production.

(re:) Directions means well. Unfamiliar with their earlier work, I hope this production is atypical and not an indication of the possibilities they may deliver in future works.

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