Butte College’s production of Molière’s Don Juan a must-see
Butte College’s production of Molière’s Don Juan is a must-see. It is fun, tight, provocative, and filled with an array of aristocrats, scoundrels, sexy young women and self-important stuffed shirts.
Molière’s play (1665) represents its author’s take on the very story on which Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Shaw’s Man and Superman and numerous other plays and novels are based. The story’s theme is still relevant: To what extent should we allow a socially irreverent, attractively flamboyant truth-teller/ scoundrel to exist among us? It’s a good question—especially in socially repressive times and especially as each one of us is a bit of a moralist and also a bit of a scoundrel.
Director Barry Piccinino has broadened his production nicely, adding (through a half-dozen side-curtains) a sense of Molière’s own a multi-depth theater, accompanying music (mostly Mozart), a lovely little song (sung by Shawndra Holmes), an elegant courtly dance, some sword-play (not in the original) and a set of fine period costumes.
Among the play’s charms are its never-a-dull-moment pace, its brilliant mix of action and thought, and its Shakespearean array of characters from all levels of society—many of whom were unforgettably brought to life by Piccinino’s actors. First were the delightful country bumpkins, Pierrot (Doug Anderson) and his “fiancàe” Charlotte (Shawndra Holmes), one of the many women Juan attempts to seduce. Anderson, with his New Jersey accent and stylized movements, and the pretty Holmes, with her hillbilly speech, wide smile and wonderfully expressive face, were absolutely delightful.
As were Alaina Wakefield as Mathurine, Charlotte’s country-competitor for Juan’s affections, and—especially—Nick Meier, who worked Dona Elvira’s effeminate, dandified brother, Don Carlos (a mixture of Hamlet‘s Osrick and Twelfth Night‘s Sir Andrew Aguecheek), to near perfection. Finally, there was the skinny and exceptionally tall Troy Harris, who played a sort of wandering ascetic who gives Juan moral advice the latter laughs at. Harris couldn’t have been better suited for the part.
In a sense, the central character and the glue that holds the play together is Sganarelle, who was gloriously played by Mario Sagastume. Sganarelle mimes, comments on, mimics and makes fun of Juan’s outrageous escapades—all the time remaining on hand to play the faithful, much-put-upon servant. Sagastume’s puckish irreverence, physical dexterity, ironic manner and crystal-clear speech made him particularly appealing—especially as a character who could draw out Juan’s deeper motives and put them in perspective.
The handsome, square-jawed, well-built, and red-clad Javier Lopez cut a fine figure as Juan. He hurried his speech a bit (and what he has to say is interesting) toward the end of the production I watched, but I’m sure he’ll find his timing soon. And as Dona Elvira, Jennifer McAfee did a fine job in portraying the slightly pinched but still sexy—if bitter and grasping—woman she has become.
Like most of Molière’s comedies, Don Juan is highly satiric. Its hero’s words and actions throw the stupidities of the world around him into keen perspective. He mocks pompous pretentiousness, would-be courtiers, shallow “Christian” behaviors, silly moralizers and idealistic dreamers all the way along his merry road to perdition. It is only at the end of the play when, frightened by the ghost of the Commander (Bill O’Hare), who has invited him to a dinner in Hell, Juan reaches his lowest point and, encouraged by his father (Michael Acosta) to change his ways, pretends to become a pious Christian.
This is where Juan ceases working for general enlightenment and becomes what Molière can’t abide—a hypocritical pseudo-Christian. It is after this choice that, in a wonderfully staged scene, Hell opens up and takes Juan in.
Molière has his hands on a resonant truth here. When you wrap yourself in religious self-righteousness, beware. For, sooner or later, people will cease to respect or believe you—especially the highly rational French.