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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
DON JUAN
at Pearl Theatre Company

SANS CONSCIENCE
By BRIAN SCOTT LIPTON

  Peter McElligott, Brad Heberlee, Isabella Curti and Justin Adams/ Ph: Russ Rowland.

Morality and mirth mix in unequal measure in the Pearl Theatre Company’s contemporary adaptation of Moliere’s Don Juan. Jess Burkle’s ultra-jokey, up-to-the-second adaptation, funny as it can sometimes be, and Hal Brooks’ broad if occasionally inventive direction often overwhelm the more serious aspects of the classic 17th-century dramedy. Ultimately, Moliere’s point gets made, but the whole affair sometimes has the feel of a drawn-out Saturday Night Live sketch that intermittently lands its punches.

The title character, familiar to not only theatergoers but operagoers (via Mozart’s Don Giovanni) and lovers of poetry, is an archetype by now: a hedonist and serial seducer of women with no regard for God, sin or traditional notions of right and wrong. Played here by the excellent Justin Adams with a slightly knowing smile, silvery tongue and suitable virility – and brilliantly costumed by Anya Kelpikov in a fringed and winged leather jacket, skin-tight lame pants with a bulging codpiece and locks of golden curls – he is deliciously irresistible.  

Indeed, we have no trouble believing that the pious Donna Elvire (the excellent Jolly Abraham) would flee the convent in order to “wed” this firebrand, that the dumber-than-dirt Charlotte (Isabella Curti) would instantly eschew her engagement to the loving if equally moronic Pierrot (Pete McElligot, overdoing the pidgin Italian accent but nonetheless adorable) in less than a minute, or that even the happily married tax collector Mr. Sabbath (Chris Mixon, superb in a variety of roles) would become easily befuddled by Don Juan’s calculated charms.

Less believable here is why Don Juan’s conscience-stricken servant Sganarelle (Brad Heberlee) remains so faithful to his amoral master. He is neither partner-in-crime, who seems to get real joy out of tricking so many unsuspecting men and women, nor do we get a true sense of indentured servitude. Heberlee’s rather too-frantic performance doesn’t help matters either, making him more annoyance than accomplice, although the actor does gain deserved applause for handily handling some of Burkle’s tongue-twisting dialogue and one impressive (if admittedly unnecessary) stream-of-consciousness speech that seems like Beckett on acid.

With so much comic commentary on hand, it can be too easy to forget that the play is also trying to make a point about Don Juan’s total disregard for human feelings, as well as the possible consequences of his actions – namely, a fiery afterlife. True, Sganarelle brings this subject up now and again, as does Donna Elvire, as well as Don Juan’s sanctimonious father, and the talking statue who ultimately leads Don Juan to his inescapable fate. Still, the wages of sin are clearly second fiddle to the spoils of the war between the sexes in this telling.

 


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