by Hugh Hunter
Quintessence Theatre Group continues its mission of bringing classic theater to Mt. Airy with a revival of “Don Juan” by legendary French comic playwright, Moliere. Now running at the Sedgwick Theater, you follow the adventures of the legendary lover.
It is a role an actor would kill for, and Anthony De Sando makes the most of it. His Don Juan is marvelously insolent. He lacks any shred of self-doubt as he vanquishes all without mercy.
His long-suffering valet, Sganarelle (John G. Williams), stands up the best. Though he has a dash of the rascal himself, he serves as a virtuous and comical foil to Don Juan’s immorality. But in the end, Sganarelle too is reduced to talking gibberish.
Others fall more easily. Dona Elvira (Jessica Dal Canton) is a nun Don Juan seduces into leaving the cloister. (The bigger the challenge, the better Don Juan likes it.) Charlotte (Bethany Ditnes) is a comely peasant girl he picks up along the way. Pierrot (Griffin Stanton- Ameisen) is her betrayed betrothed. Don Juan even plays cat-and-mouse with his father, Don Luis (Robb Hutter). There is great acting all round. But Don Juan just wins and wins.
Director Alexander Burns keeps the time and place undefined. The translation by Neil Bartlett mixes in a gob of modern palaver. Costume design (Jane Casanave) is colorfully old-fashioned but not altogether 17th century. And while the sound design (Bryce Page) evokes moods, it never insists you live in Moliere’s world. This campy production is full of invention. The lighting effects and choreography sequences are breathtaking (lighting, Mike Billings; fight direction, Ian Rose). But really, Quintessence/Sedgwick, please do come up with a better seating arrangement. Your fine work deserves to be seen.
While Don Juan derives from Commedia dell’arte, the focus is larger as it skewers morality. But to what end? And where does Moliere stand? The core character Don Juan tells us that a stance of public virtue is just the best way to succeed in vice. His involved arguments come across as a devilish take-off on Christian apologetics. (Small wonder that Moliere’s own play was quickly shut down when he tried to stage it.)
Times have definitely changed, but you still hear a version of this stuff today. Is Don Juan a wounded idealist or simply a sociopath and cynic? Take your pick.
Of course, Don Juan loses in the end. Here too there is ambivalence. The conquering hero is a 12-foot, animated mortuary statue of a slain foe who invites himself to Don Juan’s dinner table, then turns out to be the voice of God!
Virtue is upheld, sure enough. But the Avenging Angel is so fantastical, it feels like a mock morality play, and once again Moliere’s own piety is suspect.
Sedgwick is located at 7137 Germantown Ave. “Don Juan” will run through March 13. Reservations at 1-877-238-5596.
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