The ambitious staging of “The Figaro Plays” continues at McCarter Theater. “The Marriage of Figaro” was written three years after “The Barber of Seville” (which premiere last week and is running in repertory) contains many of the same principal characters and was produced exactly three years later. It is longer (by about an hour), filled with plot twists, both in mood and structure, and is very indicative of the shift in social attitudes before, during, and after the French Revolution.
In fact the work was banned by King Louis XVI after he read it, and it took continuous pleading by the playwright, the queen, and other members of the court before the King relented. Perhaps not surprisingly it was immediately popular. And it has been described as “lush, lively, and a little naughty.”
And that pretty well fits the production at McCarter.
The “lush” comes from set designer Charles Corcoran’s functional if somewhat somber approach to the chateau of Agnas-Frescas, near Seville. From costume designer Camille Assaf’s work, especially for the women. From choreographer Daniel Pelzig, particularly a spectacular curtain call. And finally, from the large cast of 19 players — with some covering multiple roles.
“Lively” comes from author Beaumarchais himself — a script that dashes all around, creating obstacles, and then the solutions, particularly for and by Figaro himself. A role — played in both productions — by Adam Green with an appealing slight frenzy. He gets plenty of help in this department, especially by Jeanne Paulsen, as Marceline, with her imperious, born-to-the-manner bearing that easily matches any competition she faces.
And the “little bit naughty” comes from the premise of the work. Figaro, it seems is getting married. In fact it is his wedding day to Suzanne (played beautifully by Maggie Lacey, whose resume covers just about every regional theater plus Broadway and Off-Broadway.) The Count Almaviva (Neal Bledsoe) insists on “droit de seigneur” — the quaint custom of a nobleman enjoying the pleasures of the intended wife just before the groom does. It is Spain, and of course the Spanish have their own term for the custom, but there is no question as to what we are discussing.
Suzanne and the Countess Almaviva (Naomi O’Connell) are not exactly excited by the project and are delighted that Figaro schemes to outfox the Count. To add to the problem: Marceline desires Figaro for herself and gets some help from Bartolo (Derek Smith), who in the “Barber of Seville” was foiled by Figaro when he went after Rosine (and still holds a grudge).
That’s a lot to get sorted out (and the reason for much of the three-hour running time) and by Act Five (two intermissions, the second one very brief) Figaro has a long series of gripes at society and indeed, mankind itself. It is those gripes that got the play banned in the first place. Green handles the role superbly, and the opening night audience rewarded him nicely.
And, once again, director/adaptor Stephen Wadsworth has waved his magic wand over the production, shining light into the shady corners, polishing the gems that are the performances, sharing both laughs and barbs with the audience. A true master at work — not to be missed.
And a final nod to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for the substantial funding that made the evening possible.
The Marriage of Figaro, in repertory with The Barber of Seville, McCarter Theater, 91 University Place, Princeton. Through Sunday, May 4. $20 to $82.50. 609-258-2787 or www.mccarter.org.