Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Review: (Vancouver) Don Juan

Molière's Cad
by David C. Jones
Blackbird theatre has a well-earned reputation for presenting classic plays often in re-invigorated stagings. They are never indulgent, they are sometimes just finessed - the work revealed in a way that is more engaging for a modern audience.

Molière is a 17th
 century playwright whose plays – like Shakespeare’s – transcend their time because the themes are not wrapped up in the socio-politics of the period but in more human truths and experiences.

Molière wrote comedies that mocked hypocrisy and pretension, particularly that of the privileged and pious.

Don Juan was written in response to his production of Tartuffe being shut down as being offensive to the church and the king.  His witty contempt was hardly disguised and Don Juan was also shut down for artistic heresy.

There is a reverence for the material that starts to weigh down the proceedings.

This adaptation was written and directed by Blackbird Artistic Director John Wright. It is a handsome production that starts out promising. The set is a serious set of columns onto which a moving projection (by Tim Mathieson) of a swordsman appears. It battles a live actor hopping from column to column.

The live performer is revealed to be Don Juan (Peter Jorgensen cutting a handsome figure) a cad and lothario interested only in carnal pleasures. His servant Sganarelle (played with charming bemusement by Simon Webb) is devout and worried; when will his master recant.  The trail of abandoned lovers is starting to avalanche, the most recent Dona Elvira (played with earnest power by Barbara Kozicki) vows retribution since she left the convent to be with the scallywag.  

The comedy marks Don Juan’s pursuits and avoidances and soon, much to his servant and his father’s consternation, our now ship wrecked ‘villain’ is seducing two peasant girls, rescuing a stranger and inviting an other-worldly statue to dinner.

Yep, Don Juan’s ungodly ways have incurred the wrath of hell by way of a golden statue.

But how are we supposed to feel about his comeuppance? Should we admire his wanton brazenness, wishing we could be so bold and self-serving, and sad that it comes to an end? Or should be so shocked by his single-mindedness, his cruelty, his lust that we welcome his downfall?

The mini-harpsichord playing Mr. Webb provides humour as does a lively scene between the increasingly interesting Sebastian Archibald as a lovelorn Pierrot and the inventively funny Pippa Mackie as Charlotte a servant girl being seduced by Don Juan but the rest of the play is pretty sombre.

There is a reverence for the material that starts to weigh down the proceedings. In act two when Don Juan’s father appears, followed by the tossed aside Dona Elvira, the audience gets quiet as nothing is revealing or engaging, it just…is. As Don Juan accepts the hell-spawned statue’s invitation to dine we watch passively, accurately predicting his goose is cooked.

The costumes by Marti Wright are vivid, there are props and masks that provide moments of fun, but in the end it is less than compelling. People who know the source material will likely be engaged as well as those who like innovative multi-media.

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