Monday, September 24, 2012

Don Juan In Hell: There are no easy answers.

Don Juan In Hell

I’m not a fan of George Bernard Shaw. Let me make this clear… his politics sicken me, his view of the world annoys me, and I find him an unbelievably elitist scumbag whose Pygmalion flat out insults my sense of freedom and liberty. (Oddly, I do happen to love “My Fair Lady”, which is based upon the latter work but features enough music and additional characters to distract me from the original point of Pyg.) So with all of that in mind, I wasn’t quite certain what to expect when Jourdain Barton decided to adapt one of his pieces for the Paperwing Stage. Her previous adaptation, “Prometheus Bound”, hit to close to the heart with many of my own frustrations and railing against the gods of convention and paradigm. Barton has a way of taking a work known for promoting one view and sort of turning it in on itself, exposing several bits of raw hypocrisy and laying open a great many hard questions without the benefit of an easy answer. I love that and decided I needed to see what she did with this work.

Don Juan In Hell is another successful venture in philosophical torment. The titular character, Juan(Timothy Saminiego), is truly suffering an eternity of torment surrounded by the exquisite horror of false love and beauty. The Father of Lies (Erik Morton) isn’t about to roast the wicked in eternal fires of damnation, not when there’s so much love to share with one another. And the crux of the story is the debate between two beings who are diametrically opposed to one another in philosophy, ideals, and goals. This is a debate that has gone on before… time and again, by the introductions from both characters and their endearments to one another. But all great events begin with a catalyst, and the final decision on whether Juan stays in Hell or moves on is brought to a head by the arrival of Dona Ana. (Taylor Noel Young)

The most famous paramour in the stories of Don Juan passes at the ripe age of 77. Her first meeting in the new plane is with Juan, who fails to recognize her at first. He tells her where she is, he explains the new “rules”… or lack thereof… regarding the form of the spiritual body. They are soon joined by Ana’s doomed father, The General (Jodi Gilmore). The two men have long since put their past behind them and have become fast friends in the time since their passing. In fact, the General is actually visiting from the Heavenly Host… much to his daughters disapproval. And the only comfort either father or one-time lover can offer is disillusionment.

And that disillusion is no better embodied than by The General, who has chosen to exist in the form of his own marble statue and bask in the glory of his own dashing image. Gilmore provides terrific comedic timing with the image of a right proper gentleman, mocking the seriousness of their debate and declaring his intention to find permanent residence with the damned. His confessions and desires embarrass and occasionally horrify Ana.

We get the feeling that the debate has gone on before… the argument between the Devil, Juan, and the General feels somewhat “old hat” between the three friends. And that’s where Ana comes into play… because whether they admit to it or not, they are struggling to convince this newest addition to their discussion on the various points of their arguments. The devil declares that the only things of worth-while value are love and beauty and social standing and adoration and it simply does not matter whether any of these things are “true” or not. Only that they are and that people enjoy them. Heaven is a place for boring contemplation, we're told. Endless contemplation for the promotion of “life” and creation and the universe and ones place in it. It’s also flat out boring, at least according to our three characters in the "know". The devil sells his Kingdom with all the passion of a zealot… Mortons’ performance is flat out chilling to this particular viewer. He is absolutely the Father of Lies, in all his twisted glory and as seductive in his assurances, promises, and twisted rhetoric as one could imagine such a creature to be.

But Juan refutes the empty promises with equal passion, intelligence, and understanding of just how deceitful this kind of eternity truly is. Samaniego cuts through to the quick on his performance with equal parts biting humor and depressing impact. He doesn’t as much as defend “heaven” and “life” so much as he refutes the basic lie of his current existence. And while he has obviously had this conversation before, the newest addition to their little discussion provides a vehicle through which Juan struggles to reach a new understanding. But, make no mistake,Ana is more than the rope between the characters in some sort of tug-war and starts to take various stands, rising to the dialogue with equal ferocity and questioning the points of all three. Taylor delivers a moving performance of her own, dismantling the points of all three gentlemen with the view of a woman and her own role in their existence.

I don’t want to spoil anything for anybody… the climax is amazing and every person may get something different from the experience. Thirty people watching the same show and my guess is that not one of them had the same view regarding the "point" of the discussion or precisely who "won" the debate. The show has one more weekend and that means two more opportunities to catch these amazing performances. The Paperwing Gallerie Threatre repeatedly delivers on the full immersion experience. Support the local arts and check this show out!

5 out of 5.

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