Guilty

Twenty years have passed since the happy crowds dashed through Count Almaviva’s palace to celebrate the marriage of Figaro and Susanna. Figaro and Susanna are still the Count’s faithful retainers, and the entourage is increased by the presence of a pair of bastard children: Leon, born to the Countess after a dalliance with Cherubino, and Florestine, daughter of Lord-only-knows with the help of the Count. The kids are in love, and it takes all of Caron de Beaumarchais’ “The Guilty Mother” to assure them that they are not blood-brother-and-sister, and that [ITAL their [ENDITAL love, at least, is guiltless.
To round out its cycle of Beaumarchais stagings that the Long Beach Opera has mounted as its bicentennial gift to France, the company has chosen curiously but well. “The Guilty Mother” is, by consensus. the weakest of the plays, by turns farcical and dark. The only known musical setting was created by Darius Milhaud as recently as 1965; Long Beach opted instead to do the play straight — well, as straight as it probably deserves — with a new incidental score by the fast-rising young composer Mark McGurty. One performance remains, at the trim little Center Theater, tomorrow afternoon.
The play is, to be sure, something of a mess; yet there are powerful moments. It could also be seen as the dark side of “Cosi fan tutte,” since it unrolls as a game of couples — three pairs, as in that opera, whom fate brings together, moves apart, and plays off against one another inĀ  rational but not symmetrical fashion. There is some powerful writing about halfway through the second half, a moving confrontation scene in which all characters drop masks and engage in some direct language about relationships. These are the winged words of the Beaumarchais of “The Marriage of Figaro,” back to stir his audiences to introspection one more time. The ending, too, is delicious farce.
For these reasons alone I urge you to head to Long Beach; you are not, after all, likely to see this rounding-off of the Beaumarchais trilogy that often. McGurty’s score is slight but handsome; in a set of mood-pieces for a small ensemble (strings, mostly, with piano and percussion) he has captured a fair measure of the bittersweet, sometimes cynical mood of the play. Incidental music can often be a pain in an otherwise spoken play; this time I wanted more.
On Mark Wendland’s weirdly raked set topped by an overturned stagecoach, Brian Kulick has directed a generally lively, boisterous performance as much acrobatic as verbal, and a good troupe of local actors does his bidding with engaging abandon. Brent Hinkley is especially touching as the lovelorn Leon; Shannon Holt overdoes the vapidity now and then as his beloved Florestine. John Fleck and Michelle Mais work up a fair amount of wise cynicism as the Figaros; Paul Elder and Camille Ameen plunge headlong into the Almavivas’ anger, perhaps a shade too strenuously. The small instrumental ensemble under Keith Clark dispatch its modest assignment — well, modestly.
PLAYBILL
THE GUILTY MOTHER, play by Caron de Beaumarchais, produced by the Long Beach Opera with incidental music by Mark McGurty. Directed by Brian Kulick, designed by Mark Wendland and Peter Maradudin, conducted by Keith Clark. At the Center Theater, Long Beach Convention Center. Remaining performance, tomorrow at 2 p.m. Tickets $10-65. Information: 596-5556.
Count Almaviva………Paul Elder
Countess…………………….Camille Ameen
Figaro………………………….John Fleck
Susanna……………………….Michelle Mais
Leon………………………………Brent Hinkley
Florestine……………………..Shannon Holt