Parallel universes converge in spectacular ways in Theatre de la Jeune Lune’s duo of “Figaro” and “Don Juan Giovanni” alternating at the American Repertory Theater. Opera and legit, farce and lyricism, French and Italian, Mozart and Moliere (and Beaumarchais) all get thrown into this theatrical mix-master. Its wild, raw, improvisatory feel belies its savvy editing, clearheaded themes and singular theatrical sensibility that pull the diverse elements into a wondrous whole elevated by the music of Mozart.
The Minneapolis-based company finds much in common with the two Mozart operas of “Don Juan Giovanni” and “The Marriage of Figaro” and their legit counterparts by the French comic masters. Having the same stellar ensemble double in the twin bill gives the productions a mirrored depth.
The pieces have been considerably reworked since their initial preems in ’94 and ’03, and, here, presented as companion pieces, they make for a theatrical event for music and theater lovers, while perhaps not satisfying purists of either completely. But if the purists stay away, they will miss out on a lot of fun.
Brilliantly fraught Stephen Epp plays the servants Sganarelle and Fig (Figaro) in each of the works, and the comically cool Dominique Serrand plays the privileged Don Juan and Mr. Almaviva. At times, their interplay is breathtaking in its boldness and emotional honesty. Though these are stock characters, each actor finds a poignancy, rage and thoughtfulness that pulls us into their worlds.
Each play begins with an extended comic riff introducing the master-servant pair and their relationships: Sganarelle exasperated by his immoral, amoral and freedom-loving master in “Don Juan Giovanni”; Fig begrudgingly saving his master’s oblivious and imperious head from the guillotine in “Figaro.”
In “Don Juan Giovanni,” the Moliere characters take an American road trip in a 1950 Plymouth and join up with their doppelgangers from the Mozart operas (Bradley Greenwald, Bryan Boyce) at a drive-in where the action on film becomes their new reality.
In the more plot-filled “Figaro,” the counterparts appear when servant and master think back to a pre-Revolutionary time evoking the ghosts of their former selves (again Greenwald and Boyce.
Though it’s a man’s world in terms of the thrust of both narratives, it’s the women who bring out the human implications of stories: the mixed emotions of Don Juan’s wife (Jennifer Baldwin Peden) as she seeks revenge for his philandering, and the plotting of Almaviva’s wronged-but-clever spouse (a compelling Peden, again) who attempts to cure her husband’s libidinous habits.
The distaff singers gloriously fill the parts of wife, fiance and others (several played with alluring charm by Momoko Tanno and Christina Baldwin).
The male singers also serve the music well, including the stirring voices of Greenwald and Boyce as well as lyrical intensity of Dieter Bierbrauer, who brings a Bill Irwin physicality to the role of love-dupe Peter in “Don Juan Giovanni” and the calculating Basilio in “Figaro.”
All the singers show substantial range and presence. If some of the musicality is lost in the frantic running around or theatrical tricks, it is more than made up for in a production that is takes no speech or song for granted.
The use of video adds to the shape-shifting change of perspective without competing with the action on stage. Sonya Berlovitz’s costumes are consistently witty, bright and colorful. The technicals are a marvel, especially the roving, whirling Plymouth sedan that becomes a character in its own right in “Don Juan Giovanni.” (The slamming of its doors and trunk give a percussive punch of its own.)
There are a few points where the playfulness of the productions lose steam and the second act of “Figaro” is slightly belabored. But as a whole, Mozart’s works are nicely flexible and the ideas-filled legit scripts are enhanced by the power of song making this a double bill of delights.