D.C.'s Shakespeare Theatre Embraces Wadsworth's Take on Molière's Don Juan

News   D.C.'s Shakespeare Theatre Embraces Wadsworth's Take on Molière's Don Juan The Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C., presents Molière's Don Juan, directed by Stephen Wadsworth, who translated and adapted the once controversial work, Jan. 24-March 19.

The 1665 play was censored following its opening night performance. Molière's Don Juan "takes the rakish character of legend and turns him into a relentless social critic, railing against the conventions and hypocrisy of his society," according to the resident D.C. company.

For the production, Wadsworth has added a prologue in verse that references the banning Tartuffe and the fact that the King is present at the Don Juan performance.

It is explained to the 17th-century audience that Don Juan has been constructed so it would not be misconstrued, as Tartuffe was. (Naturally, the show ends up being rife with social and political criticisms, including references to the King's connection to the religious right.)

Whereas Tartuffe was in verse, Don Juan was written in prose.

The cast includes Jeremy Webb in the title role and Michael Milligan as Sganarelle. "After fleeing his latest conquest and wife, Donna Elvira, Don Juan returns to Sicily to pursue yet another of his 'loves,'" according to Shakespeare Theatre notes. "When Don Juan nearly dies attempting to kidnap her, his servant, Sganarelle, argues passionately for him to change his ways. But Don Juan remains rebellious, lying to his lovers, swindling his creditors and embracing hypocrisy in order to hide his own misdeeds. Even in the face of Heaven's ultimate judgment, Don Juan refuses to repent."

"Every important artist who has adapted the Don Juan story has needed to say things about the society at hand," explained Wadsworth, in production notes. "Molière, hard hit by the rejection of Tartuffe (already a rather shocking commentary on a decadent, hypocritical society), cut even deeper with his Don Juan. Molière gave his hero a diamond-point intellect and let him loose on religion, politics and the social contract. Sex is part of it, but by no means all. Molière's Don Juan is by far the most vivid social critic of all the 'Don Juans' I have encountered."

Opening night is Jan. 29.

The cast also includes Francesca Faridany, making her Shakespeare Theatre Company debut as Donna Elvira and Don Alonso; Gilbert Cruz as Gusman and The Statue; Burton Curtis as Pierrot, Pauper and La Violette; Daniel Harray as Don Carlos and La Remee; Laura Heisler as Charlotte and Ragotin; Laura Kenny as Mathurine and Mr. Dimanche; Laurence O'Dwyer as Prologue Player and Don Luis; and ensemble members Dacyl Acevedo, Jordan Coughtry, Nicholas Urda and Ryan Young.

The creative team, conjuring an approximation of what 17th-century audiences might have seen on stage, are set designer Kevin Rupnik; costume designer Anna R. Oliver; lighting designer Joan Alheger; composer Christopher Walker; resident sound designer Martin Desjardins. Resident voice and text consultant is Ellen O'Brien. Daniel Pelzig choreographs.

Director Wadsworth's productions of plays by Aeschylus, Shakespeare, Molière, Marivaux, Goldoni, Shaw, Wilde, Schnitzler and Coward have played at McCarter Theatre, Seattle Repertory, Berkeley Repertory, Mark Taper Forum, San Diego's Old Globe, Long Wharf Theatre, Huntington Theatre and many others.

For his translations of three works of Marivaux and his scholarly and literary achievement with Don Juan, the French government decorated him in with the Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.

Wadsworth also has translated operas by Monteverdi, Handel, Mozart and Zimmermann and co-authored the opera A Quiet Place with Leonard Bernstein.

Shakespeare Theatre Company's home is at The Lansburgh Theatre, 450 7th St. NW, between D and E streets, just off Pennsylvania Avenue, between the Capitol and the White House.

For more information, call (202) 547-1122 or visit www.ShakespeareTheatre.org.

From Left: Jeremy Webb and Michael Milligan in <i>Don Juan</i>.
From Left: Jeremy Webb and Michael Milligan in Don Juan. Photo by Richard Termine