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Theatre Review by Cindy Pierre

(re:) Directions Theatre Company .

In 1995, primae noctis, the sexual rights of the nobility to a young bride prior to the consummation of her marriage, was the catalyst that produced all of the carnage and patriotism of the Scottish in the movie Braveheart. In 2009, primae noctis produces hijinks, shenanigans and some humor in Eric Overmyer's Figaro/Figaro. Adapted from Pierre Beaumarchais' The Marriage of Figaro and Odon von Horvath's Figaro Gets a Divorce, Figaro/Figaro is not only a sociological experiment, but a satire about the aristocracy with fewer hits than misses.

The show opens with a band of entertaining musicians dressed in David Withrow's colorful, peasant costumes. Together with Jack Blacketer's cardboard mountains and trellises, the visuals appeal to the audience's sense of fancy, but doesn't deliver on its fruition. Susanna (Gillian Wiggin), the Countess' maid and Figaro's bride to be, saunters in with a bustle that is ill-fitting and much more severe than her mistress'. One almost begins to wonder why Count Almaviva (Ralph Petrarca) is lusting after Susanna when his wife, due to rank and the fit of her costume, is made up much more impressively. But lust he does, and he makes his intentions known to Susanna. In turn, she tells Figaro (Teddy Alvaro), the Count's valet, and the Countess (Amy Ludwigsen), and together they devise a plan to expose his lecherous ways.

Fast-forward through the Count's humiliation to Figaro and Susanna's marriage. After all it took to get them to the altar, married life is not as blissful as they had imagined. The second half of the show has both couples fleeing the French Revolution by foot through the woods until they're caught by border guards. By this time, nobles are being executed, peasants are revolting, and everyone, including the Count and Countess, is running out of money. In an effort to survive, Figaro and Susanna leave their former employers to settle in Haggleburg, where they run a salon and try hard to climb the social ladder. Unfortunately, Figaro is regarded as nothing but an immigrant and a gypsy, and Susanna, after years of yearning for a child and watching her husband turn into a dispassionate conformist, wants to end their marriage.

Figaro/Figaro combines a comical study of aristocrats, questions about public affairs, the changing role of women and a look at relationships between men and women to create a show that is ambitious, but flawed. In general, the performances are often staccato, with emotions progressing choppily from one to the next. However, as the Count, Petrarca is more wily and humorous than anyone else, thanks to Erin Smiley's good direction. Kathryn Elisabet Lawson plays Cherubino, the Count's page and the Countess' godson, but this non-traditional casting choice isn't qualified even if it minimizes the cast. The show alternates between being droll and boring, and at 2 hours and 45 minutes, sometimes fails to keep the audience invested.

Certain staging choices also require the audience to suspend disbelief without necessity. Jim Kaufman's lighting isn't dim enough to cause the confusion that erupts in a pivotal moment where the Count mistakes the Countess for Susanna. That, coupled with the bad wigs that are donned by both women, make the switch unbelievable and unfunny. A few adjustments to both elements could have improved the circumstances. Another area that needs improvement is the sound design. A sequence in which Figaro gives orphans the license to break windows is executed with mediocrity when the breaking windows sound like anything but.

There are a few nice surprises in the latter part of the show. For one, the costumes improve greatly from the late 18th century to the 1930s. Ironically, the musicians, who later double as the border guards and therefore have more than whimsical musical interludes to contribute, wear beautiful purple costumes to reflect royalty when there is a lack thereof. Susanna's costumes are also drastically improved, with an assortment of beautiful dresses at a time when her lot has worsened. The update to the wardrobe may leave you scratching your head, but the visuals are immensely appealing.

Figaro/Figaro may sacrifice several characters and subplots from the original texts, but it still provides a comprehensive look at the whole story. And the set changes are as smooth and quick as they are frequent. The show may not be perfectly clean, but the stains here aren't solvent-proof, either.

Through March 22
14th Street Theater, 344 East 14th Street between 1st & 2nd Avenues
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: SmartTix

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