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26 April 2008

A Noise Within's Don Juan

Lord Byron portrayed Don Juan as a victim of Catholicism's sexual repression and of women's desires, but in Moliere's version, "Dom Juan ou le Festin de Pierre," Don Juan is an atheist condemned to hell. The current production of "Don Juan" at Glendale, California's classical repertory theater, A Noise Within, maintains the integrity of Moliere's script, managing to mesh a tragic moral tale with moments of brilliant comedy.

Moliere's genius is giving us Don Juan's put upon servant, Sganarelle, who acts as Don Juan's conscience and yet he is forced to retreat, bend his words into convoluted excuses as he is beaten down by his humble position and his master's complete selfishness. Don Juan's latest conquest is Elvira (Libby West), whom he has lured from a convent. To defend her honor, her brothers (Stephen Rockwell and Dale Sandlin) vow revenge. Yet justice will come from a statue.

As Don Juan, Elijah Alexander is handsome and virile and often bare chested. He has a manly command of the stage while JD Collum shifts between momentary heroics and shrinking into comedic cowardice. Yet, Alexander's Don Juan is a man without a sense of humor; he is a straight man driven by his own lusts. He has no morale compass. We see this as well as his modus operandi as he plays the two peasant girls (Abby Craden and Sarah Green) against each other.

Director Michael Michetti, working with Richard Nelson's translation, skillfully gives us elegance, dashing charm and yet over the top comedy in this serious moral tale. Having Rockwell and Sandlin dressed in black and white--the overall color scheme of this production--with flourishes of pink is inspired. Yet the two stray locks that Rockwell flips back every now and then (wigs and hair by Monica Lisa Sabedra) and his hilarious lisp gives this fop hysterical panache. Sandlin, a bit huskier than Rockwell, wears an ill-fitting costume--he can only button the top few buttons and his belly hangs out. One senses from Sandlin's portrayal that this nobleman is too vain to admit he needs a new outfit and assumes that no one notices. Rachel Myers costume design gives Alexander swashbuckling swagger to contrast these two aristocratic buffoons.

Still we do not admire Don Juan. We sympathize with Sganarelle and grow fond of the two brothers and admire Elvira when she comes to her senses and accepts responsiblity for her own mistakes, but we do not protest Don Juan's fate. We do not wink at the troubles and heartbreak he has caused for Michetti has shown us a man who can speak sweet words without seducing us into actually liking him, not an easy task, but both Michetti and Alexander are up to this task. This excellent production ends on May 24.

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