Relax, Moliere doesn’t need help – not this help anyhow

Is it possible for Don Juan to be dull?  Unfunny?   Unsexy?

The answer is yes.  Oh shucks.  Jess Burkle’s tedious adaptation relies on the audience identifying with contemporary lingo and clichés, rather than on new wit.

This whole production, in fact, seems driven by the fear that Moliere will bore the audience, even in an adaptation that stands on its head be contemporary.  The director, Hal Brooks, has the characters talking at top speed almost as in set speeches —  not communicating and interacting with one another.  What’s lost in the rush are Moliere’s rich characterizations and dramatic tension – and that does lead to boredom.

The talented cast does all it can within the given framework.  In a promising entrance, Justin Adams as Juan bursts on the scene in gleaming white and tight pants, like a rock star. But for all of his frenetic energy, we never sense his lasciviousness – he just doesn’t get enough time.  What a paradox — this is the most sexless production of any Don Juan I’ve seen.

The bright spot is a “patter” monolog with a catchy flow of Freudian stream of consciousness in contemporary idiom, heroically delivered at break-neck speed by Brad Heberlee in the role of Don Juan’s servant, Sganarelle. This tour-de-force performance is exciting while it lasts, but it’s isolated and takes the play nowhere.

Moliere productions often come with contemporary interpolations while holding steady to the play, as in The Pearl’s own delightful production of The Misanthrope.  A truly great adaptation of Moliere is David Ives’ The School for Lies, at Classic Stage, an adaptation of The Misanthrope saturated with contemporary sensibility, and one of the wittiest, funniest shows I’ve ever seen (I loved it so much I went twice for the sheer pleasure of it!)

Which just shows you, it can be done.

Don Juan plays at the Pearl Theatre on Manhattan’s west side through  June 7, 2015 .

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