Molière’s Don Juan—the 17th Century tale of a rakish nobleman whose insatiable libido and incorrigible charm lead him from town to town, deceiving (and deflowering) damsel after damsel to his ultimate doom—is nothing if not timeless. And (dare we say) timely in the #metoo era. Yet Taffety Punk Theatre Company keeps it light and playful in its pared-down, supremely-performed production of the classic at Capitol Hill Arts Workshop.
Set in “France, way back,” the minimalist set design (Crista Noel Smith) defies any particular age. A white-washed floor is strewn with a few pieces of modern white furniture and white paneling serves as a backdrop for computer-projected images. Music is piped in over the loud speakers. The audience, cozied-up in CHAW’s small black box theater, feels a part of the action.
Stephen Wadsworth’s cheeky translation and adaptation begins with a rhymed prologue (roguishly delivered by Louis E. Davis) that lets the audience in on the joke from the get-go: it turns out “the King” is in the audience tonight, so the actors are going to ‘keep it clean.’ Yet this turns out to be too tall an order with a scoundrel like Don Juan (Tonya Beckman) in the wings.
The play “officially” opens on Don Juan’s morally-tortured servant, Sganarelle (Paul Reisman) recapping Don Juan’s latest exploits. After kidnapping the chaste Donna Elvira from a convent, seducing her and marrying her in the space of a single day, Don Juan’s ardor has…cooled. He flees to the next village and sets his sights on a peasant girl (or two), with Elvira and her servant Gusman (Briana Gibson Reeves) in hot pursuit.
Left to apologize for his master’s itinerant interests, Sganarelle delivers a scathing diatribe in an almost breathless patter: condemning Don Juan as “the most vile miscreant the world has ever produced: a dangerous man, a dog, a demon, and infidel…who believes in nothing you revere and fear.”
Reisman brings an almost Falstaffian sparkle to the usually sullen, downtrodden Sganarelle. Sure, he’s properly scandalized by his bosses’ misdeeds, but almost deliciously so. Like witnessing a car wreck, Reisman revels in the sheer audacity of his master’s wicked ways, recounting his exploits in an excited hush that sends a gleeful shiver up the audience’s spine.
Enter the demon him (her) self: Beckman swaggers on stage in leather leggings and riding boots, a jeweled bustier just visible beneath a ruffled smock – something like Madonna channeling Liberace. Luxuriating in the role, time seems to slow down as Beckman settles languidly into her chair, absently plucking at her décolletage.
Beckman’s Don Juan is both sultry and playful; slick, but not repugnantly so; and, ultimately, winningly witty. While cast across genders (as is much of the show), Beckman plays the titular role “as a man,” with neither gender-bending nor caricature. Best known for both comic and Shakespearean roles, Beckman is adept at the art of “feminine wiles,” and brings a light touch to the role, manipulating the other characters with a mere brush of an arm or shared glance.
closes April 21, 2018
Details and tickets
The action proceeds as swiftly as it began and Don Juan’s uniformly talented cast (including Chelsea Mayo, Stefany Pesta and Briana Gibson Reeves) transition seamlessly through multiple roles, across gender boundaries and through costume changes at near break-neck speed. Promises of love are made and broken; revenge is plotted and averted; deals are made and…cleverly wiggled out of. Director Dan Crane further ups the ante by interjecting sword fights (and cat fights), prat falls and physical gags …to say nothing of the plate juggling.
The second act is a hair too long, or perhaps the coziness of the black box began to feel a bit claustrophobic past hour two. But under Crane’s skillful direction, the seemingly monumental task of performing a centuries-old classic with a company of six in a black box theater is ultimately not only wildly successful, but a lot of fun.
Taffety Punk Theater Company describes its mission as igniting a “public passion for theatre by making the classical and the contemporary exciting, meaningful, and affordable.” At $15 a ticket, Taffety’s Don Juan is not only terrific theater, it’s a steal.
Don Juan by Moliere. Translated and adapted by Stephen Wadsworth. Directed by Dan Crane. Assistant Director Linda Lombardi. Featuring Tonya Beckman, Paul Reisman, Louis E. Davis, Chelsea Mayo, Stefany Pesta and Briana Gibson Reeves. Lighting Design by Paul Callahan. Sound Design by Marcus Kyd. Costume Design by Jen Gillette. Projection Design by Patrick W. Lord. Set & Prop Consultant, Crista Noel Smith. Marketing, Graphic Design & Press by Erin White. Stage Management by Jess Philips. Asst. Stage Managers Kai Isaac and Miranda Ryan. Scenic Artists Renee Beaver, Kate Fleming, Percy Kyd Bruneau and Marcus Kyd. Poster art by Ryan Nelson. Produced by Taffety Punk Theatre Company . Reviewed by Meaghan Hannan Davant.