Review: Don Juan

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Sun Star
April 22, 2003

Don Juan
by Robinson Duffy

..... Theater UAF has once again presented a stunning visual spectacle. Their lavish performance of "Don Juan" is bursting with flamboyant costumes, sensual dancing, and imaginative (though simple) sets-an eye-popping feast.

..... The sumptuous staging suited well Moliere's infamous tale of debauchery, decadence, promiscuity, and downright wickedness. But much like the play's hero, the gilded outside of this production disguised its corrupt inner workings.

..... The play follows the exploits of the notorious Don Juan (Chip Brookes), literature's greatest womanizer, from conquest to conquest in his bold attempt to rule over the entire world of woman. With absolutely no conscience or scruples, Don Juan incarnates the "when I'm not near the woman I love, I love the woman I'm near too" philosophy held in so much regard by the residence of the 90210 zip code. His devilish yang is balanced by his servant's Sganarelle's (Andrew Cassel) pious ying who vainly attempts to lead his scrupulous master down the narrow road to salvation

..... This version is, to say the least, a liberal interpretation of Moliere's original. Spread throughout the classic language is a slathering of 20th century paraphernalia, idiom, and bantering-much of which seemed unscripted and wretchedly uncontrolled. The untrained cast were ill prepared for the hefty amount of adlib and impromptu slapstick they copiously threw about. Actors need a firm grasp on the basic chemistry of humor before they can attempt such a level of off-the-cuff comedy. This particular cast had no such footing and their adlibs quickly took control of the action-floundering their performance.

..... At one point the actors, themselves, echoed the sentiments of the audience in our plea for some sort of coherent stability when Michael Karoly as the vengeful Don Carlos suggested to his fellow cast members that they "get back to the script." We shared Brookes' relief when he replied under his breath, "It's about time."

..... Moliere's fantastical story calls for a hefty dose of exaggeration and broad strokes when creating his colorful characters. The cast held nothing back, playing every moment to the hilt. Often, however, this led to players going violently over the top. It seems likely that director Anatoly Antohin's only instruction to Don Alonso (Jeffrey D. Aldrich) was to run around mindlessly like a shrieking sheik-forget interpretation or understanding, just scream.

..... It makes one wonder why this department so often ignores language. The inherent humor in a witty turn of phrase is sacrificed for the baser, physical comedy. The incredible talent of Rose Jensen was practically thrown away in her role as Elvira, Don Juan's spurned wife. No one in the audience paid an iota of attention to her lines or delivery-the subtle nuances and understanding of language she showed so strongly in "Kartasi." The audience's attention was instead accosted by the explicit sexuality Elvira's character was contorted into, smothering her entire performance.

..... Several of the actors are to be commended for their lively connection to each other and the audience. Chip Brookes' performance as Don Juan was well rounded and consistent, with good direction and focus. However, Brookes' stellar talent shines most brightly through interaction. His ability to play off the audience, and his understanding of the comedic possibilities of doing so, is brilliant.

..... Michael Karoly showed similarly incredible talent through his portrayal of Don Carlos. Sharing Brookes' grasp of comedic timing, the pair were a dynamite duo in their scenes together.

..... However, Andrew Cassel clearly stole the show as the servile Sganarelle. His stage presence and character strength were captivating. Of all the actors, Cassel showed the most comprehension of the deeper meanings flowing through Moliere's script and his pivotal role in them. Sganarelle is truly the Everyman-Moliere's poignant commentary on the true nature of mankind's piety. Sganarelle, and us as an audience, watch in astonished horror at Don Juan's villainy, yet truly we all agree with Sganarelle's confession, "I wouldn't mind doing the same things myself if there were no harm in it."

..... Reinforcing the thematic elements of the story were some well-placed Spanish dances. All the dancers in the show deserve a special recognition. Their sexually charged choreography added immeasurably to the performance.

..... You could tell all the actors and dancers alike had a lot of fun with this show, which has a direct relation to the amount of fun the audience has.

..... Antohin is right, "We humans are too ridiculous to take ourselves completely seriously." We need to laugh at our own ludicrous foibles from time to time. Yet Moliere's "Don Juan" needs some seriousness to hold the concept together-even farce must have limits, boundaries to control the message. Those boundaries, sadly, were never established in this production.

..... Don Juan performances are Friday April 25, and Saturday April 26 at 8:15 pm, and Sunday April 27 at 2:00 pm. Tickets are available by calling the Salisbury Theatre Box Office at 474-7751. Tickets are $5 for students and children, $8 for UAF employees, alumni, members of the military and seniors, and $10 for adults. This show is aimed at a mature audience, though college students are invited as well.

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