Corrections or additions?
This article by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the May 8, 2002
U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Review: Moliere’s `Don Juan’
Neo-classicist director, adapter, and translator
Wadsworth has done a remarkable job restoring and re-examining
Juan," one of Moliere’s lesser plays. In a resplendent staging
at McCarter Theater, this co-production with the Seattle Repertory
Theater reaffirms the ideas that shocked Paris theatergoers in 1665.
The infamous libertine of lore is once again exhumed to haunt and
beguile us, as much through Moliere’s wit and wisdom as through
audaciously stylized imagery.
Even as Wadsworth’s attention to 17th-century theatrical traditions
is notably apparent, he has also drenched this difficult and
play with 21st century resonance. He has opted for an immediately
accessible vision of the ruthless rake that is mercifully far removed
from the abstracted and nightmarish mask-dominated production provided
by director Richard Foreman for the New York Shakespeare Festival,
in 1982, the only other version of the play I have seen.
Area audiences familiar with Wadsworth’s popular and influential
of the 18th-century plays of Marivaux can expect to see an equal
of attention lavished on the ornamental detail and deportment of the
17th century. If our ear is occasionally overburdened with
ponderous, and over-the-top speeches, the actors are proficient vocal
stylists and admirable exponents of projection, prose, and poetry.
One of many delightful conceits of the performance are the witty
spoken to King Louis XIV, who is acknowledged to be in attendance
among us. Such moments are nicely underscored by lovely baroque music.
The eyes have a treat in Kevin Rupnik’s sumptuously painted settings.
McCarter’s large stage has been artfully framed to create more
between the audience and the players. A royal coat of arms identifies
the stage as that of the Palais Royal where "Don Juan"
in 1665. This is where we are introduced to the humorously
company of actors who formally bow to us in the manner in which they
We are, indeed, transported to another time by this delightful
The witty deployment of 17th-century stagecraft, rolling ocean waves
and a treadmill, are delightful enhancements. The sight of the actors,
grandiose poseurs all, in Anna R. Oliver’s resplendent Louis XIV
costumes also commands attention, admiration, and some hearty laughs.
Despite Wadsworth’s bold decision to throw many ideas at the audience
in as many ways as possible, I found myself constantly committed to
what might otherwise become a muddle of moods and shifts of artistic
purpose. It is apparent from the outset that Wadsworth is not out
to obliterate Moliere’s original treatment of a man who, though he
may be seen as a shrewd and intelligent philosopher, mocks the church,
the mores and morals of the time, seduces, marries and abandons women
for personal pleasure. Don Juan makes as much a case for denouncing
religious hypocrisy as he does for the birthing of a new wave of free
thinking. "Tartuffe," Moliere’s no less shocking expose on
similar themes, was still banned from the stage at the time of the
premiere of "Don Juan."
Moliere’s anger comes through vividly in the calculated and
facade of Don Juan (Adam Stein) and in the chattering self-amused
Sganarelle (Cameron Folmar), his valet and, if you will, his alter
ego. Their debates, in which the dynamics of the play’s moral issues
are hammered out, are engaged in with a purity of purpose and a
elegance. Stein, very young in appearance and impetuous in manner,
presents a rather startling but always fascinating, figure of an
This Don Juan supports disdain and a vanity we are eager to understand
yet loath to reckon with. After all, as a rational forward-thinking
philosopher ("I believe that two and two makes four") he only
wants what he wants when he wants it.
Just as Don Juan’s credo is to have unbridled sexual
freedom, conspicuous wealth, and social prominence, and to never have
to pay his creditors, so it is his servant Sganarelle’s (in an
performance by Folmar) task to provide the compassion and
His florid discourse on the pleasures of sniffing snuff is a hilarious
digression. Of course, his misguided faith and his fear of losing
his job, eventually and unsurprisingly lead to disgust with a master
Stein and Folmar are masterful together. One of many hilarious moments
between the two finds Sganarelle assisting Don Juan to dress in his
haute-couture finery, starting with purple pantaloons to ("Oh,
these are lovely") . . . I won’t spoil it for you, but I guarantee
you will have a hearty laugh.
Driven by the sheer display of its extravagant trappings, the
has no difficulty keeping our attention. In the second half, the play
takes a rather hokey melodramatic route to Don Juan’s damnation
a trapdoor to hell) and it gets bogged down with excessive theological
moralizing. But it is not the fault of the graceful and elegant
Faridany, who, as Donna Elvira, Don’s Juan’s abandoned wife, elegantly
and eloquently, tries to convince Don Juan of the advantages of love
and forgiveness but also of the "power of a woman’s anger."
Like other members of the cast Faridany assiduously assumes another
role, that of the dashing Don Alonso.
Burton Curtis and Mary Bacon are riotous as a pair of comically
lovers, until they are undone by Don Juan’s skullduggery. Also
is Frank Corrado as Don Juan’s unforgiving father, and Burton Curtis
as an unwaveringly religious beggar, as are the ensemble of seven
actors, in multiple roles.
Because the original play, banned since its premiere, has not
Wadsworth has incorporated parts of a Dutch version (from the 1680s)
as well as writing a new prologue ("We made it crude, so it cannot
be misconstrued") in whimsical rhyming couplets, if you please.
Happily Wadsworth has not manipulated Moliere’s theme to make a
statement. But I suspect he has sought to uncover some of the
of Don Juan’s complex, ultimately tragic nature, and to make sure
that Moliere’s great flair for comedy is not ignored. To these ends,
he has succeeded royally.
— Simon Saltzman
609-258-2787. $30 to $43. Performances continue to Sunday, May 19.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.