Theatre Scoop: Figaro’s wedding worth the length

Not many plays can inspire an opera by one of the world’s most renowned composers, fewer still can cause a revolution. In celebration of the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth the U of C drama department is presenting The Marriage of Figaro, a play by Beaumarchais responsible for Mozart’s great opera and perhaps even more.

“The play was highly controversial and in order for it to be preformed, it had to be censored,” explains director Barry Yzereef. The revised edition finally deemed acceptable by French aristocracy remains somewhat controversial, especially in the fifth act where Figaro airs his grievances in a long and dramatic monologue. In case mention of a fifth act didn’t clue you in, The Marriage of Figaro is a long production, running about three hours.

“It is a real marathon for the actors, a workout for everyone with all the dancing, singing and acting,” Yzereef comments. “The actors have to maintain a sense of fun but that they also realize that the play calls for serious moments as well, it is a comedy but they have to give a reality to it.”

This is a delicate tightrope for the actors to walk as the play constantly shifts from serious to oftentimes farcical situations. Joshua Dalledonne had no trouble navigating these murky waters as the ever crafty Figaro. His lively, dynamic performance had audiences fixated every time Figaro arrived on stage. Janet McCloy was equally captivating as the delightfully saucy Suzanne and Iam Coulter playing the Countess kept the production moving along.

The scenes were meticulously staged. Even when just two actors remain to fill the entire stage the use of space was skillfully exact. The lighting was craftily concocted to show the progression of a day, so in the last act where the cast assembled in the garden for their song together, the sun is just rising to indicate the end of the play. Yzereef is particularly pleased with the set.

“The design is wonderful,” he comments.

His feelings of satisfaction are justified. The set is easily adaptable to each scene yet retains the majesty of a well-to-do count’s dwelling. All set changes are completed by chorus members and various peasants who remain in character and make entertaining dialogue just audible to audience members. This is a very enjoyable departure from the usual set changes dominated by decidedly less entertaining stage hands creeping around in black outfits.

Consisting of about 25 characters, the cast is large and having all of them up on stage became problematic during a few scenes where secondary characters’ sideline antics, although amusing, become distracting to the central action taking place.

Singing plays a big part in The Marriage of Figaro. Despite it’s importance, many of the cast members don’t have much of a vocal warm-up before they get to sing.

“They warm up at six but they don’t actually sing until four hours later,” says Yzereef, explaining the primary cause for the limited tonal range demonstrated.

The Marriage of Figaro is accompanied by a three piece ensemble who set the ambience of each act. There is even a hilarious duel between the pianist and violinist that successfully charms the audience.

The Marriage of Figaro is thoroughly entertaining, but Yzereef sees this production as more than just amusement.

“It is a terrific opportunity to experience the play that inspired the opera and to see for yourself if the themes expressed are still relevant today,” he remarks.

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