The Pearl Theatre Company has been moving up in the world. In 2009, the troupe left its modest Theatre 80 digs for the second downstairs stage at City Center, and now it has taken over the 42nd Street space vacated by Signature Theatre Company. But if this fine new venue is its oyster, the Pearl does not yet seem fully formed. Its first production of the season, Figaro, puts the troupe’s most laudable assets up front: a propensity toward classical works seldom seen in New York (in this case, Pierre Beaumarchais’s 1778 farce, best known as the source of Mozart’s 1786 opera); a pleasant spirit of continuity in its company of resident actors; and a leading man, Sean McNall, who brings remarkable natural clarity to all his roles. As Figaro’s scheming title character—the upwardly mobile steward of a lecherous count (Chris Mixon) who has designs on Figaro’s bride-to-be—McNall powers the production with devious confidence and an unflappable grin.
Yet the Pearl’s theater-community spirit sometimes drifts close to community theater. Hal Brooks has directed solo shows successfully, notably Will Eno’s Thom Pain (based on nothing), but Beaumarchais’s farce would benefit from swifter coordination of its multiple moving parts. The staging sometimes seems sluggish and old-fashioned, a problem compounded by the production’s flatly bright set and rudimentary lighting.
Since Charles Morey’s uneven adaptation, commissioned by the company, leans heavily on fourth-wall–breaking jokes, one might attribute metatheatrical intent to the show’s presentational quality. But this Figaro seems to have higher aspirations than its quaintness suggests. Program notes allude to the play’s foreshadowing of the impending French Revolution, and Morey hits this connection harder than is necessary. (References to Spain have been excised, and the first scene of Act II now finds Figaro shaving the count with a straight razor while humming “La Marseillaise.”) McNall, Mixon and others—including Pearl vets Robin Leslie Brown and Dan Daily as older fools, and Tiffany Villarin as a bubbly-sexy ninny—keep the comedy from sinking into lecture, but one yearns for a Figaro as quick as its hero’s wits.—Adam Feldman
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