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Don Juan

I am compelled to love the whole world.
---Don Juan

Michael Milligan as Sganarelle and Jeremy Webb as Don Juan
M. Milligan and J. Webb
(Photo: Richard Termine)
Shakespeare Theatre's super-fast paced production of Molière's Don Juan is a treat for Washington audiences! High energy comedic performances and wonderful staging abound!

Translated, adapted and directed by Stephen Wadsworth, this Don Juan takes its cues from the opening night performance of Molière's original text, which debuted in 1665. Its scathing humor and pointed look at societal and political hypocrisy are still on target almost four hundred years later.

Mr. Wadsworth's translation is the first attempt to solely incorporate content that originated from Molière himself. This is quite an accomplishment since immediately after its opening night Don Juan was continually censored and rewritten during its performances and, in fact, even after Molière's death eight years later. Thus a myriad number of versions of the classic work have existed through the centuries. Mr. Wadsworth uses text from the Amsterdam edition, which was published in 1683 and is based upon the original staged version.

For Shakespeare Theatre audiences, Mr. Wadsworth's production comes together in a mesmerizing way that is paced with high energy and magical delight. Kevin Rupnik's storybook illustration sets have interesting depth and appear like rich paintings on stage. Daniel Pelzig's choreography is fun and light. Joan Arhelger's lighting effects add sparkle as Christopher Walker's and Martin Desjardins' soundscape create pomp and grandeur. Anna Oliver's colorful costumes give a sense of farce and playfulness, while the makeup creates a pantomime effect for the cast. (I won't go into more detail, but the production offers some delightful surprises.)

Director Wadsworth has demanded that his players give an air of campy farce to their performances. A wink and a nod to the audience permeate the entire play, thus giving the piece a feeling of "We're all in on the joke, so just play along with us." One can see how 17th century audiences may have been scandalized, even as we laugh at jokes that could just as well speak about ourselves today. For a detailed synopsis of the story go to

As the title character, Jeremy Webb bounds across the stage, leaping and jumping, seemingly never stopping to take a breath in an enchanting, high octane performance. Giving a smile as he says a double entendre or grinning as he pulls a Machiavellian prank on someone, this Don Juan is hard to dislike. And when he descends to his final place in Dante's Hell, you're sorry to see him go -- even though he did kill someone, has jilted and used a number of women, hates his father and uses his wealth to manipulate the poor. In all respects he is a cad, but he sure is entertaining and fun to be around.

In the role of faithful, or more aptly fearful, servant Sganarelle, Michael Milligan is another joy to watch. While Don Juan plots his next adventure, Sganarelle frets over his master's soul and -- more importantly -- his unpaid wages. Don Juan uses everyone and pays for nothing and Sganarelle is his accomplice. A debating voice of conscience who ultimately is as unaware of his own motives as Don Juan is honest about his. On the one hand Sganarelle insists fear of reprisal keeps him acting against his conscious, while on the other hand he keeps holding his hand out wanting his earnings. Obviously this servant is making the choice of money over beliefs -- a basic survival nature that is highlighted throughout the play and especially in its closing scenes. Thus Molière shines a light on all the people out there who hate their jobs, but keep going into the office every day. (I told you the play was just as applicable to today's world!)

Francesca Faridany creates a forlorn Donna Elvira who seemingly becomes the first woman to break off with Don Juan. As she emerges less and less from his spell, she seems to gain greater strength and consequently rekindles the nobleman's affections. Daniel Harray is her brother Don Carlos, avenged to seek justice in the name of her honor, but refusing to break his own code of ethics to accomplish the task.

As the quarrelling peasant lovers Charlotte and Pierrot, who are used by the rakish Don, Laura Heisler and Burton Curtis bring a pie-eyed naïveté that grabs laughs as they debate the finer points of romance. And Laurence O'Dwyer as devout father, Don Louis, makes one wonder if it was nature or nurture that put Don Juan onto his manipulative ways.

The excellent cast is rounded out byGilbert Cruz, Laura Kenny, Dacyl Acevedo, Jordan Coughtry, Nicholas Urda, and Ryan Young.

Not just pure entertainment, this production hits at our current political and social climate, in a way that shows how important theatre is to a society as a mirror that reflects, cautions and celebrates. Don Juan m

Don Juan
by Molière
Translated, adapted and directed by Stephen Wadsworth
with Laurence O'Dwyer, Gilbert Cruz, Michael Milligan, Jeremy Webb, Francesca Faridany, Laura Heisler, Burton Curtis, Laura Kenny, Daniel Harray, Dacyl Acevedo, Jordan Coughtry, Nicholas Urda, Ryan Young
Set Design: Kevin Rupnik
Costume Design: Anna R. Oliver
Lighting Design: Joan Arhelger
Sound Design: Martin Desjardins
Choreographer: Daniel Pelzig
Fight Director: Geoffrey Alm
Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission
Shakespeare Theatre, 450 7th Street NW
Telephone: 202-547-1122
TUE-WED @7:30, THUR-SAT @8, SAT-SUN @2, SUN @7:30; $14.25-$71.25
Opening 01/24/06, closing 03/19/06
Reviewed by Rich See based on 01/29/06 performance

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