Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Many Adventures of Don Juan (review)

Spoilers Ahoy!

Moliere is tricky to do. The 17th century French playwright rightly shines as one the greatest comic writers of all time, but the theater of his age was very different from that we know today, and given so much depends on the quality of the translation, many of his works don't get as much 'play.' A shame. The Many Adventures of Don Juan, one of Moliere's most scandalous works, has one more weekend of a sadly limited run at Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre in North Hollywood.

Thankfully, this production gets it spot on! In fact the comic style melds quite nicely with the high-energy, often deeply irreverent style at ZJU. In this case, director Alex Walters creates a madcap, naughty and very funny 'world' that connects between the far-off Europe of three centuries past and our modern America.

Don Juan (Robert Walters) is the ultimate womanizing libertine, much to the despair of his silly manservant Sganarelle (Dorian Serna).  The nobleman celebrates his seduction and marriage of a nun, Donna Elvira (N.j. Ambonisye), who is furious over her abandonment. He doesn't care, but immediately plots his next crime--the kidnapping of a beautiful newlywed. This one at least doesn't come off as their boat capsizes, leading to some locals to rescue the pair, which in turn gives Don Juan the opportunity to cause a fuss over two different girls he promised to marry--presumably after meeting each the same day!
Photo: Adam Neubauer

Opera fans (the famous opera has the same source material as the play) might start recognizing some of the classic tale as the famous rake visits the tomb of the Commander (Jason Kaye) killed by Don Juan in the course of a previous escapade. He jokingly insists upon inviting the statue to dinner. When the statue nods his reply, the two flee in terror.

Not that Don Juan remains afraid long. He soon asserts all that was nothing but a trick of the light, in time to dazzle with compliments one of his creditors (Irwin Moskowitz) before sending the man on his way, sans payment.

Eventually of course--and who doesn't see this coming?--the Commander does indeed show up for dinner. Don Juan is slated for the lake of fire, and with every single plot twist we see how very much justice lies in this. And yeah, the play is a comedy! In fact, a very funny comedy!  All the actors (who make up quite an ensemble, all but two playing multiple parts) perform with flare and even elan. More they show the skill level to pull this off, not only in distinguishing their characters but making those characters hilarious! Nothing quite ruins a comedy than poor timing and I honestly didn't see a single gag that wasn't perfectly timed for the entire hour-long show! Just
Photo: Adam Neubauer
about impressive was how I understood every single word spoken!

Diction is a pet peeve of mine. Often even the best shows in Los Angeles (and elsewhere) suffer at least a tiny bit from slurred words or soft consonants so I have to strain to figure out what's said. Not this time! Each and every word ended up clear and sharp!

But honestly the whole show proved a tour-de-force for everyone. The whole ensemble including Tara Egnatios, Georgan George,  Amy Muszynski and Mariya Pesheva gave it their all and it shows! Even Kevin Van Cott's original music added to the whole dizzying fun of the piece. When you think about it, the subject matter doesn't really seem like it should be funny, does it? Yet I cannot emphasize how much I actually guffawed! Comedies can be instantly and clearly succeed or fail based on whether they get laughs. For this one, I had a hard time catching my breath sometimes! And a grin hardly ever left my face!

The Many Adventures of Don Juan plays Saturday May 23 at 8:30pm and Sunday May 24 at 3pm at Zombie Joes 4850 Lankershim Blvd. (across from KFC and just south of the NoHo sign), North Hollywood CA 91601. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at ZombieJoes.Tix.com.  Or call (818) 202-4120 for reservations.

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