The Marriage of Figaro, Wing & Groove Theatre Company, at the Chopin Theatre. Adapter Megan Powell sets Pierre-Augustin de Beaumarchais’ subversive 1784 love comedy–the “follies of a day”–on the SS Seville, a 1930s ocean liner. Wily servant Figaro is the first officer, and his ungrateful master, Count Almaviva, the lecherous, unfaithful captain. Director Bryan White, unafraid to resort to slapstick and mugging, treats Marriage like vintage screwball comedy: mannered deliveries and fashionable posing merely disguise the passions that lurk beneath the surface. About one inch beneath.
That tack mostly works despite Powell’s overabundance of nautical imagery and Depression-era slang. With everyone literally in the same boat, it’s easy to explain the constant invasions of privacy that keep the mayhem mounting. The new setting also allows Benjamin Morphis as the captain to do a smooth Clark Gable imitation–he’s a matinee idol constantly tricked by his own libido. Likewise Kerri Van Auken as his neglected wife suffers from the vapors as she seems to search for her diffusion-lens close-up. Molly Meehan’s pert Suzanne conveys Joan Blondell’s sassy spirit. And Eric Ciak’s pratfalling Figaro recalls a Raymond Chandler gumshoe at his hardest-boiled.
The purely comic characters, however, still seek their inspiration. What comes through, perhaps with more difficulty than it should, is Beaumarchais’ bitter truth: to triumph over undeserved privilege, natural virtue requires unnatural cunning. All the scheming seems almost more trouble than it’s worth.