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performance notes Figaro Gets a Divorce 6d6n von Horvfth Directed by Robert Woodruff La Jolla Playhouse (San Diego, CA) Don Shewey Elision of time and culture was the metaphorical engine that propelled the American premiere production of Figaro Gets A Divorce, directed by Robert Woodruff at the La Jolla Playhouse in California. In 1937, the Hungarianborn German playwright Odon von Horv~th produced a sequel to The Marriage of Figaro in which the characters from Beaumarchais's comedy (and Mozart-Da Ponte's opera) time-travel from the French Revolution to the brink of World War II. Woodruff's multinational production-which featured a contemporary American translation by Roger Downey, leading actors of Polish, Japanese, Cuban and Mexican origin, and pointed references to recent political upheavals in Haiti and the Philippines-updated the play all the way to 1986, both politically and theatrically, in the first five minutes. As the audience arrived, a jester onstage entertained the court, represented by two dummies in thrones. With a bow, he yielded the stage to an operatic puppet show of the finale from The Marriage of Figaro, featuring Barbie dolls in period costume miming the music on tape. Suddenly, a gunshot jolted the puppets; more gunfire and they began to sway noticeably. Smoke began to drift and then to pour onto the little stage. The lighting turned fiery, the music got louder and louder. Finally, a trap door opened up and swallowed the dummy King and Queen, and the puppet theatre receded in the noise and confusion until it was swallowed up in the darkness. A supertitle announced: "That's all, folks!" When the lights came up again, the Count and Countess Almaviva were fleeing the revolution with their servants Figaro and Susannah and as much of their wealth as they could carry (his tennis raquet, her parasol), leaving behind them an executed monarch, a burning palace, and a trunk full of shoes and black brassieres. Revolutionary drama is typically romantic in its high-flying rhetoric, its 69 poetry, its stirring portrayal of the triumph of the people, and its happy ending suggesting happily-ever-after. Post-revolutionary drama, a rarer brand (recent examples that come to mind are David Hare's Fanshen and Stephen Lowe's Tibetan Inroads), is necessarily more prosaic because it asks in the cold light of day: so how did it work out? what happened next? and then? and then? In Horvath's play, the Count and his entourage hole up at a ritzy European spa-until the money runs out. Reduced to inhabiting a seedy furnished room, the Countess gets sick and dies. Figaro returns to his former occupation as a barber and opens his own salon, an emancipated servant and a happy bourgeois-until Susannah betrays him with the town's scoutmaster . He returns home to the revolution, where the court jester has become commander of the castle, now an orphanage. Susannah returns to the Count, who gets caught up in a shady business deal and goes to jail; when he gets out, Susannah supports him by working as a cocktail waitress-until her work permit expires. So inevitably they return, the nowhumble Count to the country he betrayed, the now-proud Susannah to the husband she betrayed, to see if they all have the maturity, the humanity, to pick up the pieces and go on. An amusing and ultimately poignant drama about the emotional and moral rigors of political exile, Figaro Gets a Divorce reflects the playwright's own experience of fleeing Nazi Germany in 1933, returning for a few months in an attempt to "work within the system," and then forsaking his country for good (he died in 1937 on the Champs-Elysees when a chestnut tree that was struck by lightning fell on him). The play is episodic in the manner of Brecht's epics, yet the movement of the play is Chekhovian in that it is defined by the characters. Rather than using the characters' lives to illustrate political points, Horvath wishes to measure the soundness of political ideology by its practical impact on individual lives. In his stubborn attachment to full-blooded characters within an analytical structure, he provides the link...


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pp. 69-72
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