The Marriage of Figaro
Written by Beaumarchais, adaptation by Allison Arkell Stockman
Directed by Allison Arkell Stockman
Produced by Constellation Theatre Company
Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson
Constellation Theatre Company has mounted The Marriage of Figaro, a “physical comedy about class,” with all the sophistication, wit, and zeal of a seasoned ensemble. There just seems to be no end in sight for this young dynamic company that has tackled Greek drama, political allegory with Vaclav Havel, Szechwan and Arabian tales in its two year history, and now they can add French farce to their amazing history.
The silly plot lines of mistaken identity, hidden notes, schemes, deals, and sexual intrigue intermingle with flashes of social grumblings, class conflict and strident gender inequalities. The social issues are pervasive and real enough to have inspired Mozart to write the opera which foreshadowed the French Revolution, but the play is so outlandishly entertaining, it’s easy to get swept up in the funny silliness of it all. Luckily, Allison Arkell Stockman, wearing both adaptor and director hats has a solid grasp of all the elements and leaves no innuendo behind in hitting punch lines, pirouetting around the double-takes, and ratcheting up the stakes to a fevered pitched intensity. Reminiscent of Rorschach Theater’s commitment to no-holds-barred ferocious physicality, the actors slam through doors, tumble and squat, tussle and jab like their lives depend on it, all without a net. It’s an artistic display of dramatic movement, utmost clarity with precise text articulation, and above all, exquisite character interpretation. That such a young company keeps pulling off consistently stellar work is a remarkable achievement.
In the story, Figaro has to maneuver his way through the social customs to keep the lecherous Count Almaviva from having his way with Figaro’s new virgin bride, Suzanne, a heretofore accepted practice which reflects the ultimate power base of the aristocracy. There are couplings galore in this romp of a tale, and Stockman has a vested interest in exploring all aspects of dramatic physicality to tell the story.
Stellar casting and unflappable directing are key to the production’s success, and this show like all their others, pulls no punches. All the actors deliver such knock-down performances, sustaining moments of hilarity or tension with such intense, unwavering commitment, that it’s hard to identify the standouts. Their sense of heightened physicality is pervasive. Joe Brack displays true star appeal as he ducks and dodges the social misadventures like the road runner evading the ever-present anvil that keeps dropping from the sky only to miss him every time. Always one step ahead without appearing to outsmart his upperclassmen, he has to think fast on his feet, stay on top of the action, and court his precious Suzanne, the most adorable Katy Carkuff, without missing a beat. He is well matched by the lurking letch himself, wonderfully played by Jonathon Church, whose wife barely tolerates him, but who is the object of Marceline’s lust-filled passion played to the rafters by Nanna Ingvarsson. Topping it all off is the remarkable Joseph Thornhill, as simple peasant Cherubino who’s entire body trembles to within an inch of his life on cue, and who can trounce and leap with feline agility, while changing mug shot expressions at the drop of a hat, or his pants, depending on the scene. A.J. Guban does his usual magic with set design inspired by Spanish visual artists Goya and Gaudi, and music designer Jesse Terrill sets the tone with original orchestrations throughout.
The central themes of class conflict, gender inequality and class conflict course beneath the playful passages, and the characters that could come across as distant and archetypal are instead engagingly human and real. As director, Stockman creates a fantastical world filled with song, dance and music as part of the all encompassing artistry. As adaptor, Stockman has an immediate and direct connection with the text and the characters, and as such, helps to tell and interpret their stories. “We are treated to their personal hopes and fears,” she writes, and as such, she functions as the ultimate ambassador as she shows their “…struggle with despair and desire. They, like all of us, are on the eternal quest for love.”
This production of The Marriage of Figaro knocks down barriers and brings the masses into the inner workings that inspired a revolution, just as dramaturg Christy Denny notes Beaumarchais broke the barrier of the common man making public social statements. It’s as big a deal now as then, so — Viva la résistance via Constellation Theater.
Running Time: 2:30 hours
When: Thru February 22. Thursday – Saturday at 8 pm, Sunday matinee at 3pm.
Where: Source Theater, 1835 14th Street NW, Washington D.C.
Note: In honor of Mozart’s 253rd birthday, Constellation Theatre and In Series will be doing two special combined performances, Viva Mozart!, featuring the music from Mozart’s opera and scenes from Constellation’s Marriage of Figaro. Wed, Jan 28 at 7:30 and Sun, Feb 1 at 7 pm. Tickets: $50.