Molière's classic take on the infamous rogue gets a modern touch-up at the Pearl Theatre Company.
Most theatergoers probably know a little something about the story of Don Juan, at least that it involves a dashing, rapacious wooer of women. In Molière's 1665 version of the tale (the original was written by Tirso de Molina decades earlier), the Don Juan story serves as a comical platform for some serious satirizing, especially of the hypocrisy he saw in religious life. The play was quickly condemned by the authorities for its blatant discussion of atheism and its ridicule of Catholics.
In the Pearl Theatre Company's new production, Jess Burkle has gently removed some of the period-specific references and inserted some modern idioms to make the play a bit more palatable for 21st-century audiences. Under Hal Brooks' direction, Don Juan simmers with fine performances and a well-adapted script, but it never quite reaches a boil.
The story follows Don Juan (a smoldering Justin Adams), the remorseless lothario who ravishes just about every woman who crosses his path, much to the chagrin of his faithful servant, Sganarelle (played with unflagging gusto by Brad Heberlee). He practices his seduction on Donne Elvire (Jolly Abraham), whom he abducts from a convent then abandons. Elvire's brother (a comical Pete McElligott) has been looking for Don Juan so that he can run a sword through the knave's belly and thereby preserve his family's honor. Though Don Juan has a knack for talking his way out of any situation, he meets his match when a statue of a commander (Chris Mixon), whom he killed, comes to life and drags the unrepentant sinner to his doom.
In his program notes, Burkle says his translation is also an adaptation, with tweaks to Molière's original that make the play resonate more for the modern ear, and for the most part, it works. Brooks chose to retain the time period of the original, with costumes by Anya Klepikov that suggest the 17th century. Don Juan's provocatively skin-tight pants, silver leather jacket, and silver wings are notable exceptions, but Adams, sporting long, wavy, golden-red locks, wears it all so well we forgive the anachronism.
Harry Feiner's scenic design provides aesthetic and thematic interest, depicting an eye-shaped background that looks like a temple's oculus surrounded by frescoes, suggesting the eye of God that not only sees all Don Juan's hypocrisy but also ultimately passes judgment on him for his sins.
Adams plows head-on into the lead role along with Heberlee as Don Juan's servant. They engage in some trenchant philosophizing in Act 2, and both create comic chemistry onstage. But the play's humor is often blunted when the script becomes burdened by Burkle's long lines of alliterative language.
Isabella Curti charmingly takes on several roles, including Don Juan's dim-witted conquest, Charlotte, whom she plays with open-mouthed bewilderment. Mixon also adroitly embodies not only the statue but four other roles including, in drag, Mathurine, one of Don Juan's older lovers. Adams gets chuckles when his Don Juan proposes to her and Charlotte at the same time.
At two hours and 15 minutes, the show goes by at a clip, but it would have really taken off if Brooks had amped up the camp a bit more. Though the Pearl's Don Juan isn't quite second-date material, it's fun enough to flirt with for an evening.