Don Juan can't quite seduce its audience


An adaptation of Molière’s Dom Juan, written and directed by John Wright. A Blackbird Theatre production. At the Cultch’s Historic Theatre on Thursday, December 27. Continues until January 26

During the first half of this version of Don Juan, a guy sitting in front of me decided to check his email on his smartphone. I tapped him on the shoulder and told him to knock it off, but, underneath, I knew that we were brothers in suffering: we were both bored out of our minds.

When Molière first presented Dom Juan ou Le Festin de pierre in 1660, his telling of the story of Don Juan’s serial sexual conquests caused such a scandal that it was quickly shut down and not performed again in its uncensored version for over 200 years. Outraged viewers felt that Molière was celebrating a sexual libertine.

As written by Wright, however, Don Juan is a simple cad, completely lacking in charm, intelligence, and self-awareness, and his atheism is clearly morally wrong. At the top of the story and every step along the way, other characters keep telling him that he’ll go to hell. Spoiler alert: he does. There’s no moral exploration. Nothing changes.
And nothing much matters. There’s not a whiff of real lust. And there’s no real sense of the consequences of lust. Unlike in Mozart’s operatic version, Don Giovanni, which contains terrifying music, nothing is scary here; Wright’s adaptation fails to make a compelling case for the play’s quaint Catholicism. And very little is funny. Secondary characters prance about wearing commedia dell’arte masks, but the physical business of running into pillars and so on mostly falls flat.

Playing Don Juan, actor Peter Jorgensen doesn’t embarrass himself, but he doesn’t create depth within the two-dimensional written characterization either: his Don Juan is a black-goateed villain. Simon Webb works hard as Don Juan’s servant Sganarelle—morally outraged one moment and morally compromised the next—but I often felt like he was alone on-stage, and his comic efforts are undercut by the show’s slack pacing. Interestingly, Sebastien Archibald, who appears as a number of secondary characters, including Pierrot, the hapless suitor of one of Don Juan’s conquests, is having an almost infectious good time. Archibald throws himself into the work, and the sheer energy of his unforced pleasure produces a liveliness that’s lacking elsewhere.

I saw this show in its last preview, and author Wright, who also directed this production, began the evening by apologizing for the unreadiness of the projection design. But Tim Matheson’s projections—especially its duelling ghosts—are among the show’s strongest elements.

I was not seduced by this Don Juan.

Comments (3) Add New Comment
Dear Mr. Thomas,

I have to say this: your reviews can be brutal and sometimes unfair (I say this from personal experience - remember our 1 hour phone conversation about Richard 3rd, back in the day), but in this instance I have to admit that you hit the nail on the head.

I absolutely adore Blackbird Theatre, and eagerly look forward to their work each year since Vancouver rarely enjoys proper theatre of this excellence. I'm hardly a Moliere expert, but have to reluctantly agree with you: Mr. Jorgensen's Don Juan felt flat and dispassionate, especially surrounded by the amazing work of the supporting cast who act up a storm around the title character. Peter's voice and musical talent is amazing, and I know he is a very accomplished actor but his DJ character seemed unfilled to me...

Now, I'm not just saying this because Peter hated my Chutzpah musical audition some years ago... no, no... he was absolutely right, I had a great idea (belonging elsewhere), but my singing sucked... the audition sucked, absolutely! (I chose to present my gay male version of "Maybe This Time" from Cabaret... perhaps a bit too strange and experimental, indeed). The pained look on Mr. Jorgensen's face following my song was one I'd never seen before, and I was briskly whisked out of the space without further ado...

I digress...

I see the iconic Don Juan as insatiably passionate, seductive, sexual from head to toe, salacious, muscular, hairy chested, sweaty, irrational, Mediterranean, impulsive, childish, obstinate, dangerous, sometimes red faced, sometimes arrogant, puffed up and proud, self centred, spoiled, macho, misogynistic but ultimately so charming and successful that we love him... need I continue?

Still, Vancouver theatregoers, you must see this play! I saw it for the second time last night, and it's already much improved, tighter, cleaner and clearer that a week ago. It's a rare gem - we almost never see Restoration, let alone Moliere in Vancouver and the talent and great work on this stage is fantastic... very much worth price of admission.

Brian Knox McGugan
Rating: +3
Martin Dunphy
David Stein:

Never mind. Have another.
Rating: +1
Martin Dunphy
.....and another, and...
Rating: -1
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