Sunday, April 27, 2008


I went to see Figaro at the Berkeley Rep on Friday night. No, not the opera, but the new play.

The show begins with Figaro and his old master Count Almaviva hiding out in a deserted mansion across the street from the Bastile about 20 years after the events of Mozart’s opera have ended. The French revolution rages outside. The beginning plays something like Becket with the Count and Figaro humorously exploring their master and servant relationship now that the revolution has stripped the Count of his nobility. Unfortunately it also gets bogged down in modern political references trying to squeeze a few last moments of fun at Bush’s expense. While the jokes were clever, they did little more than beat a dead horse and cheapen the play by making it less timeless.

Soon Figaro and the Count start reminiscing about the good old days and talk about the events that happened in Mozart’s opera. Other actors even appear on stage as the younger Figaro and Count and perform songs from the opera as flashbacks. At fist I just thought this was exposition to bring people unfamiliar with the opera up to speed. No, the entire play is the old Count and Figaro talking about the events of the opera interspersed with songs from the actual opera.

It’s a Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro highlight reel and lecture. The actor playing the old Count directed the show. The actor playing the old Figaro adapted it. I think the two of them just love Mozart’s opera so much that they wanted to give us the best parts, and then use the older characters as a conceit to explain everything that was happening and teach us what it all meant. Otherwise, there’s really no point to it. I would have rather just gone to see the opera.

The first half runs an agonizing 1 hour and 40 minutes plus without even a blackout or scene change along the way to break up the action. On the plus side, the singing was beautiful and the acting was superb. They also did some really interesting things with the staging. They had a big screen on the back wall that showed projections, usually just pictures of architecture to highlight the setting, but often they showed live close ups of the actors on stage. While it was a really interesting use of multi-media, it didn’t seem to really relate to the actual show at all except perhaps to add to the college lecture motif. (Now here class is this wonderful song from the opera…)

I left at intermission.

To read more about San Francisco Theater, check out Tim's blog, Direct Address.

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