CAMBRIDGE - The revolution continues at the American Repertory Theatre.
Last week saw the opening there of the Minneapolis-based Theatre de la Jeune Lune's radical rearranging of Mozart and Molière, "Don Juan Giovanni," and now it's joined by its companion piece, "Figaro." This time around, Dominique Serrand and Steven Epp's mash-up pairs Mozart with Beaumarchais, setting "The Marriage of Figaro" as a kind of flashback from a grim, post-revolutionary Paris that's (very) freely adapted from "The Guilty Mother," the final and least familiar play in the Figaro trilogy.
At first blush, this makes great sense: Beaumarchais's trilogy was controversial in its time as a cri tique of the traditional order; in hindsight, Figaro's outwitting of the Count came to seem a harbinger of doom for the very aristocrats who had cheered the clever servant's onstage schemes. So why not show us Figaro and his not-quite-master, Count Almaviva, in 1792, after the revolution has transformed them both into citizens?
It's also smart to have them "remembering" the scenes from the opera as a kind of golden age - for Figaro, because he was young and marrying the woman he loves, and for the Count because he was still the Count. The bickering of Old Figaro (usually addressed simply as Fig) and the retitled Mr. Almaviva lends itself naturally to quarreling over what really happened back then, and that segues nicely into the disputes and deceptions of the past.
In practice, though, the combination is more complicated than it seems, for both good and ill. Mozart's slyly comic atmosphere blends uneasily with the bitter political disillusionment of the "present" (both the old men's and our own, as we're reminded by some anti-Bush jokes that would be funnier if they were fewer). That unease can feel enlightening, pointing up the class tensions even in Mozart; it can also just feel uneasy, as if we're listening in on a conversation between two artists who don't understand each other at all.
The structure of "Figaro," with its division into past and present, sounds more logical than that of "Don Juan Giovanni," which presents the sometimes baffling spectacle of two Dons onstage at once, interacting (or not) by rules that are never quite made clear. But that just goes to show that logic isn't everything. "Don Juan Giovanni" feels coherent, even when it's confusing; "Figaro" goes to more trouble to spell out its plot points, but the mood and pacing of its separate parts sometimes feel off balance.
Even so, Jeune Lune as always creates some unforgettable effects. The sight of the Countess, lamenting her husband's infidelity in "Porgi amor" as he tows her around the stage in a funereal little boat strewn with roses, is particularly, and strangely, moving, and so is the contrast between old Fig and his younger, more resilient self. Serrand, who directs as well as playing Mr. Almaviva, also finds many clever ways to shift between present and past, with the actors displaying a prestidigitory knack for turning up in places where we thought they weren't.
Jennifer Baldwin Peden's Countess makes the strongest vocal, as well as visual, impression, not just in that flowery barge but in the lovely "Sull'aria." Bradley Greenwald is suitably arrogant as the Count, with a big voice to match his big chest, even as Bryan Boyce's Figaro sings witty circles around him. Serrand and Epp, respectively, nicely echo that relationship in their squabbly detente as the older versions of master and man.
This is not, ultimately, a deeply satisfying "Figaro"; it's too uneven, too unfocused, to hold us in its spell. At the end, though, it comes together in a powerful image that reveals what it could be. Married at last, Figaro and Susanna rejoice in their love and invite everyone, young and old, to join them at the celebratory bonfire - which, in what you might call a real coup de theatre, subtly but indelibly becomes the revolutionary fire of a world forever changed.
Louise Kennedy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.