Last night saw the first performance of a run of eleven in Against the Grain Theatre’s revival of their 2013 hit Figaro’s Wedding. It’s essentially the same show. Director/librettist Joel Ivany has made a number of tweaks and updates but the main differences lie in what the singers bring to their characters.
All the main characters are subtly (or not so subtly) different. It’s hard to know who has most impact but the overall effect is to darken the story. Last time Alexander Dobson’s Alberto was creepy and oleaginous. Here Phillip Addis comes off as a harder, more dangerous, character capable of real violence. This is reinforced by a real sadness floating around Miriam Khalil’s Rosina. The fraught nature of their relationship heightened by the fact that Miriam is rather clearly pregnant (for real!). She sings the big arias and the Act 4 denouement beautifully. The Act 3 “Where are the promises we made?” was stunning with some very classy ornamentation. I wish I could have heard her better in Act 2 (we’ll come back to that) because that sounded good too.
The two young lovers were also interesting. Bruno Roy’s suspicious Figaro is not far away from Stephen Hegedus original though I don’t remember the stripper elf first time round. In any event it’s strongly sung and effectively characterised. Alexandra Smither’s Susanna though was a different beast from 2013. Susanna is too often described as “pert” but Smither was. So there. It was also a much more highly sexualized portrayal than Miriam Khalil’s calculating Bridezilla of six years ago. She also displayed some really nice comic touches especially in Act 4 where at times we were very much in the world of, at least, commedia, perhaps French farce.
Lauren Eberwein’s Cherubino came close to stealing the show whenever she appeared. She’s still playing a Lesbian but a much more femme and older seeming one than Teiya Kasahara. There’s less a sense of just beginning to explore her own sexuality and more of teaching every other woman about hers. Interesting take. Greg Finney reprised his role as officiant and father of the groom while Jacques Arsenault and Maria Soulis made an effective pair as the Wedding Planner Basilio and Event Organiser Marcellina. They transitioned seamlessly from money grubbers to very happy part drunks! One should not either understate their contributions to the many ensembles that are dotted through this work.
Accompaniment was provided efficiently by Rachael Kerr directing from the piano with Jennifer Murphy and Brenna Hardy-Kavanagh (violins), Rory McLeod (viola) and Bryan Holt (cello). They coped with the complex logistics and lack of sightlines very well.
The Enoch Turner is a tricky space with odd acoustics. For this show it’s configured in two ways. For Acts 1,2 and 4 the audience is basically arranged around three sides of the room with the instrumentalists on the right hand side by the entrances. For Act 3 is set up like a church with the audience either side of an aisle and the instrumentalists roughly where the choir would be. From what I could tell talking to other people all the solo singing was clearly audible if one was sitting close to the action though the ensembles got a bit muddy. From where I was sitting, at the back for Acts 1,2 and 4 and away from the aisle for Act 4 it was a mixed bag depending on exactly where the singer was. So, I heard every word of Rosina’s Act 3 aria but next to none of her Act 2 one. Also there’s a fair bit of fun interaction between cast and audience and naturally there’s more of that if one is close! So, if I were going again I would position myself strategically near the entrance before the show and during the intermissions so I could grab a seat in the front row (1,2 and 4) and on the aisle (the wedding).
So, to conclude, it’s a good show. Against the Grain have come a long way in six years but this show holds up well. If you didn’t see it last time you have probably been kicking yourself ever since. If you did, there are enough intriguing differences to make it well worth seeing again.
There are ten more performances between now and December 20th.
Photo credits: Taylor Long