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A Revival of Beaumarchais’ ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ Opens on Broadway

October 11, 1985 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ ″The Marriage of Figaro″ is the busiest play in New York.

Why it expends all that energy is never quiet clear, but director Andrei Serban, helped by Beni Montresor’s eye-catching abstract set, has created a stylized, chic never-never land for his company of hard-working, athletic actors to inhabit. They are not allowed to stop moving. The play, which opened Thursday at Broadway’s Circle-in-the Square, unfortunately does.

The problem, for the most part, lies in the earnest and humorless adaptation of the 18th century Beaumarchais classic by Richard Nelson. It sinks some usually fine actors, and they need Serban’s distracting bag of tricks to pull them out of the morass.

The director has put much of his cast in modern dress and on wheels. Servants whiz by on skateboards. Cherubino, the page, circles the elongated oval-shaped playing area on roller skates, as he chases Fanchette, the gardener’s daughter. Bazile, the lecherous music teacher, speeds back and forth in a wheelchair and there is even an automobile to putt-putt Count Almaviva around the stage. At one point, Figaro swings from a trapeze while discoursing on the rights of man.

Some of these images are striking, but after a while they appear to be only theatrical gimmicks designed to wake up the audience rather than advance or comment on the action.

Not very much happens anyway. There is a great deal of talk about bedroom shenanigans. The play is set in motion by the count’s desire to bed Figaro’s fiance Suzanne and Figaro’s desire for revenge on hearing of the plot. Along the way Figaro gets to discover his real mother and father and eventually all the couples are paired off correctly.

Anthony Heald has created a puckish Figaro with a wandering Brooklyn accent, and Christopher Reeve, despite his physical agility, is an unconvincing count. More effective are the ladies in the cast, especially Caitlin Clarke, who plays the pants role of Cherubino. Her roller skating is almost as good as her acting. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio makes a charming Suzanne and Dana Ivey turns in an icy portrayal as the neglected countess.

Serban, who last staged this comedy at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis three years ago, has put together a wildly erratic evening of entertainment. Mozart had far better luck with his version of the story.