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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

The Barber of Seville
First of The Figaro Plays at the McCarter

McCarter Theatre Center

On stage at the McCarter in a felicitous translation/adaptation of the latter 18th century French commedia dell'arte The Barber of Seville. Originally conceived of as a comic opera, the play (with songs) is best remembered today as the basis for Rossini's 18th century opera of the same name.

Barber of Sevellie
Derek Smith, Burton Curtis, Naomi O'Connell, Adam Green and Jeanne Paulsen

The setting is the Seville house of the elderly Dr. Bartolo and the street on which it faces. Smitten by her at first sight, Count Almaviva has followed Bartolo's beautiful young ward Rosine all the way from Madrid. Here, the Count meets Figaro, who formerly was in the Count's employ as a servant. In short order, they overhear Bartolo telling a confidant that he intends to force his ward Rosine to marry him. As the jealous Bartolo is determined to keep Rosine locked in her second floor bedroom where she will not be able to be reached by young suitors and Figaro has access to the house as Bartolo barber and apothecary, the Count enlists Figaro to aid him in his scheme to woo and wed her. Figaro's schemes include the Count disguising himself as both a fellow musical student of her teacher (and Bartolo's confidant and marriage arranger) Don Bazile, and a soldier who is to billeted at Bartolo's. The resourceful Rosine has schemes of her own.

Of course, we have seen ad infinitum variations of this classic commedia plot, but when the writing and performances and production are as stylish and witty as they all are here, its durability is astounding. Even the pathos of unrequited love is tantalizingly present, even though Bartolo is no match for Marivaux's harlequin in this area.

Adam Green is a totally delightful Figaro, delightfully setting the tone for the entire production in which he tells about the trials and tribulations which have brought him to Seville and his current employment. He has escaped from the anarchic world of "Letters" (yes, he has also been a writer—Figaro is considered to be somewhat autobiographic) and "... all those parasitic mosquitoes and tsetse flies and leeches and ticks and critics; and publishers, and censors, and all the rest, who just feast on the man of letters and suck him dry of whatever he may have left to say ..."

Neal Bledsoe is a stalwart, appealing and amusingly harried Count Almaviva. Derek Smith adds comic physical dexterity to his at-the-top, but not over-the-top, portrayal of the ridiculous foolishness of Dr. Bartolo. Cameron Folmar as the avaricious Bazile deftly captures a humanity in his deplorable trait. Naomi O'Connell gorgeously sings the only song which is employed in this Seville.

Charles Corcoran's detailed and complex two-level set (initially, we see the faηade, which is later removed, revealing the rooms and stairways "inside") is as playable as it is enchanting. Camille Assaf has designed the spiffy period costumes.

Back in the 1990s, theatre and opera director Stephen Wadsworth triumphantly adapted and directed three classic eighteenth century comedies by Marivaux (The Triumph of Love, Changes of Heart, and The Game of Love and Chance) at the McCarter. These outstanding productions, brilliantly infused with a strong dose of poignancy, were memorable. Thus, it was with eager anticipation that I approached Wadsworth's current return to the McCarter to direct in repertory productions of the first two plays of Pierre Beaumarchais' The Figaro Plays, The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro. Although the first of these plays, The Barber of Seville is not as exceptional as the Marivaux trilogy, it is a literate and witty classic comedy with dialogue (as "translated and adapted" by Wadsworth) which tickles both the ear and the brain. It is sure to entertain theatergoers who have not been desensitized to classic comedy by overexposure to the gross, sledgehammer approach to humor to be found in much of contemporary cinema and television.

New Jersey theatre audiences are in debt to McCarter artistic director Emily Mann for bringing us again the brilliant Wadsworth who has restored to us the wit and elegance of these classic French comedies.

The Barber of Seville (in repertory with The Marriage of Figaro under the umbrella title of The Figaro Plays) continues performances (see theatre website for repertory performance schedule) through May 3, 2014, at the McCarter Theatre Center, Matthews Theatre, 91 University Place, Princeton. Box Office: 609-258-2787; online: www.mccarter.org.

The Barber of Seville by Pierre Beaumarchais; translated, adapted and directed by Stephen Wadsworth

Cast
Count Almaviva…………………….Neal Bledsoe
Figaro………………………………...Adam Green
Rosine…………………………...Naomi O'Connell
Bartolo………………………………...Derek Smith
Engarde /Notary……………………..Burton Curtis
LeBebe/ Alcade…………………….Frank Corrado
Marceline………………………….Jeanne Paulsen
Bazile……………………………..Cameron Folmar
Constable……………………………...Cody Buege
Constable……………………..David Andrew Laws


Photo: T. Charles Erickson


- Bob Rendell



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