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San Francisco by Patrick Thomas

The Marriage of Figaro
Cinnabar Theater

Also see Jeanie's reviews of The Language Archive and Company, Richard's review of The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures


Miguel Evangelista, Bill Neely, Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek
and Krista Wigle

The North Bay has many attractions: a near-perfect climate, charming towns, a national seashore, plenty of open space, and much more. To that list you should add the Cinnabar Theater. This small (115 seat) theater on the top of a hillock on the north side of Petaluma is producing some of the best regional theater on any side of the bay.

Their latest endeavor is a charming chamber(ish) production of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro. This farcical, somewhat ribald opera buffa—with a marvelous, relatively contemporary translation by the English theater director Jeremy Sams—is a vastly pleasant way to spend an evening.

First, there's Mozart's music. Not for nothing is this one of the most widely performed operas in the world. Lovely melodies abound, and the orchestral accompaniment (even with a smaller ensemble, as in this production) is gorgeous. It doesn't hurt that there's also plenty of comedy, quite a lot of passion, and a happy ending for all.

Of course, since the rights to perform The Marriage of Figaro are in the public domain, anyone can put it on stage (provided they have the necessary resources). But the charm of the original can easily be squandered if you don't have the rest of the package: good singers (with comic chops, as well), an ensemble that can capture the magic of Mozart, a director with the vision to bring the timeless aspects of a classic to life and make them relevant for a contemporary audience—and a production team with the skills to put it all together and bring it to the stage. Cinnabar's production succeeds on all these levels.

Virtually all the singers do a lovely job of interpreting the music. Topping the list is Kelly Britt, whose take on Susanna, the lady's maid—and Figaro's intended bride—is absolutely marvelous. Charm and wit and grace and good humor simply pour out of her. Her presence brightens the stage every moment she's on it. And she has an equal partner in Eugene Walden's Figaro. Sporting a debonair handlebar mustache and in possession of a strong voice that is especially clear and resonant in the lower registers, Walden steps up and seizes the dramatic action, keeping all the energy driving forward.

These two are well-supported by a terrific backing cast. Special kudos to Krista Wigle, whose Marcellina is just the right blend of bawdy and conniving; Miguel Evangelista for his wide-eyed comic turns in two roles; and Maayan Voss de Bettancourt, whose soprano is powerful enough to make us sit up and take notice of the more minor role of Barbarina. Actually, the entire cast (save for James Pfeiffer, whose voice is unfortunately not up to operatic standards) acquit themselves with great skill and passion.

Director Elly Lichtenstein has done a magnificent job here, placing her cast so the small space almost never feels crowded, even when virtually everyone is onstage. She has a gentle touch with romance, but has also found some wonderfully physical comic moments—suggestive enough to make a modern audience sense the naughtiness of the text, but never pushing it over the top. Her design for the physical interplay of the cast is clever and always motivated by story, never overreaching or feeling less than organic.

The only place where this production isn't completely successful is its scenic design. It's not ugly, just bland and uninspiring, something the rest of the show never is. What's more, it forces the 10-piece orchestra into a smallish "room" at stage left, muddying the acoustics.

But don't let that stop you from getting yourself to Petaluma to see this wonderful staging of a classic. After all, if the only reason you get to the North Bay is for the hiking and biking and wine-tasting and spectacular natural beauty, you'll miss out on one of the other delights just north of the Golden Gate.

The Marriage of Figaro runs through June 15, 2014, at the Cinnabar Theater, 3333 Petaluma Blvd North, Petaluma. Shows are Wednesday June 11, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $40 general, $25 for those 21 and under. Tickets and additional information are available at www.cinnabartheater.org or by calling 707-763-8920.


Photo: Eric Chazankin


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Patrick Thomas



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