Don Juan

Moliere certainly didn’t invent the chauvinist, but he knew a thing or two about the concept.  Faction of Fools proves they know a little bit about gallivanting as well with their adaptation of Don Juan.

For those not versed in the legend of the centuries-old seducer, Don Juan (Sun King Davis) is a wealthy libertine with little on his mind other than the fair sex.  In his not so noble pursuit, he has great success thanks to the help of sidekick and hireling Sganarelle (Charlie Retzlaff).  Don Juan’s escapades inevitably invite the scorn of an angry father, with whom our dashing ladies man duels successfully, striking a mortal blow. 

His victim, however, is a powerful Commander, and our protagonist spends the remainder of the play on the run from creditors, vengeance-seekers and scorned lovers.  He proves adept at evading all until a familiar face reappears from the afterlife to exact revenge.

(l-r) Matthew Taylor Strote, Sun King Davis, Hannah Sweet and Charlie Retzlaff. (Photo: C. Stanley Photography)

(l-r) Matthew Taylor Strote, Sun King Davis, Hannah Sweet and Charlie Retzlaff.
(Photo: C. Stanley Photography)

If that all sounds a little like a Martin Scorsese plot, I should mention the entire play is a comedy, and a commedia dell’arte one at that, complete with its masked characters, Renaissance flair and physical comedy. Aaron Cromie, Klyph Stanford and Denise Umland deserve praise for mask, set and costume design, respectively.  The ever-changing set-work is particularly innovative (I won’t spoil the surprise as to how), delighting the audience and giving the Fools a lot to work with.

With the anti-hero flying high in pop culture today, Don Juan is ripe for a reboot. From swashbuckling to womanizing, Faction of Fools is right to get ahead of Don Juan before HBO gets their hands on him.  Unfortunately, for all the beauty and splendor put forward in their production, this Don Juan doesn’t quite hit the mark.

To be sure, there are some strong and engaging performances.  Matthew Taylor Strote mimes and minces across the stage with gusto as Pierrot and Dimanche.  Hannah Sweet is compelling in all of her five rolls, but her sometimes brash, sometimes demure Charlotte stands out as she swings between affections for the dashing Don Juan and the cutesy appeal of Pierrot. Bess Kaye is also to be commended for portraying six characters (Dona Elvira, Mathurine, and others) in right about two hours without missing a beat.  In one of the better comedic moments, King’s Don Juan and Retzlaff’s Sganarelle bring down the house with a delightfully funny struggle over how many chairs to set out for dinner (you’ll see).

Recommended
Don Juan
Closes October 6, 2013
Gallaudet University

800 Florida Avenue, NE
Washington, DC
2 hours with 1 intermission
Tickets: $25
Thursdays thru Sundays
Details
Tickets
 
Overall, however, the adaptation has an unfinished quality to it.  Don Juan relies on referential humor from Jaws to Beyonce to modernize the work.  The effort is sometimes good for a chuckle but just as often overdrawn and groan-inducing.

More importantly, the Don Juan of this production is neither the dashing rogue we want to succeed nor the arrogant prig we’re dying to see brought down.  For all of his swordplay and sex appeal, when Don Juan finally meets his moment of karmic reckoning the audience responds with a collective shrug.

Equally middling is the role of Don Juan’s assistant Sganarelle, who wavers between devotion, bemusement, annoyance and outright contempt for his employer.  Sometimes Batman and Robin, sometimes Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, sometimes Ren and Stimpy, it’s a little unclear just how these two get along in the world. The result is a relationship that is incapable of driving any emotional response to the action from either the actors or the audience.

In short, Faction of Fools’ adaptation of Don Juan struggles for direction and could use a second look.  The work would benefit from some additional character development and a better sense of where Writer/Director Matthew Wilson wants to see them all go.

Still, the production is visually appealing, sometimes funny and strongly performed.  While not a perfect triumphe, Don Juan is a solid effort.

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Don Juan by Moliere . Adapted and directed by Matthew R. Wilson . Featuring Sun King Davis, Charlie Retzlaff, Bess Kaye, Hannah Sweet, and Matthew Taylor Strote . Scenic, Lighting, and Projections Design: Klyph Stanford . Costume Design: Denise Umland . Sound Design and Music Composition: Neil McFadden . Properties Design: Ellen Houseknecht . Masks Designed and Created by Aaron Cromie . Sign Consultant/Interpreter: Dr. Lindsey D. Snyder .  Stage Manager: Laura Cividanes . Produced by Faction of Fools . Reviewed by Jon Boughtin.

More?

The Fools at work. Photographer Ryan Maxwell visits a tech rehearsal for Don Juan.

donjuan2
Other reviews:

John Stoltenberg . MagicTime!
Nelson Pressley . Washington Post
Robert Michael Oliver . MDTheatreGuide
Justin Schneider . DCMetroTheaterArts

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