Thursday, May 31, 2007

Don Juan in Chicago

"Sex without love is a meaningless experience, but as far as meaningless experiences go, it's pretty damn good."

-Woody Allen

Who knew that chasing after the ladies would be a full-time job that would consume one's every waking moment?

The Clockwork Theatre, a relatively young yet ambitious company created by SUNY Grads, is restaging one of David Ives's few full-length plays, Don Juan in Chicago, at the Kirk Theatre on Theatre Row in a fun, albeit slightly amateurish, production.

Don Juan in Chicago is a comedy about how and why the Ultimate Ladies' Man is the way he is: mainly as a result of some pesky fine print in a contract with Mephistopheles.

See, in 1599, Don Juan is a virgin with no interest in knowing the ladies in the Biblical sense, but with an insatiable interest in knowing the secret(s) to life. So, he makes the obligatory deal with the devil for immortality, with said immortality coming with a price: in order to stay alive, the Don has to bed a new woman every night (no prostitutes and never the same woman twice).

Flash-forward to 400 years later: Don Juan (now going by the name Don Johnson) is living in a bachelor pad Chicago with his also-immortal servant Leporello (now going by Lefty) and has realized that having to seduce a new woman each night pretty much wipes out the sort of downtime one needs for reading and enlightenment. Oops.

Now his past has caught up with him and the devil wants to cash in on his soul.

It's been a long while since I've seen a play by David Ives, having seen his collection of one-acts, Mere Mortals, Off-Broadway way back in 1997. His comic timing and whimsical style (both ultra-contemporary and lyrical) is almost enjoyable to listen to and watch and this script - and production - is no exception.

And yet...and yet...

Throughout the show, I couldn't help think that this production seems out of place in an Off-Broadway house. Clockwork's staging of Don Juan looked like a very nicely done, well-financed college production. As expensive-looking as the lights and set looked, there were a number of recurring snafus with both (such as some missed and delayed cues and a door that refused to stay shut) that visibly threw off the actors. These could have been just the result of opening-night jitters, but something about them made the show seem a little less than professional.

I bring this up because when a production is playing at Theatre Row and charging $25 for a ticket, an audience member can't help but expect a certain level of polish from an Off-Broadway play not necessarily demanded from an Off-off production.

Having stated that, Don Juan is a funny and intelligent play (I particularly enjoyed how the Don would be bemused to find himself speaking in verse whenever around Mephistopheles or Dona Elvira) and Owen M. Smith's direction made me laugh.

The standout in the cast is Doug Nyman as Leporello, who provides the most laughs in the show. Justin Long look-a-like Mike Cinquino plays the Don with the right amount of haggard charm that a 430-year-old player would have. Shayna Padovano is quite charismatic and sympathetic as Dona Elvira, the Don's first and one true love who will not rest until she's back in baby's arms.

Despite some of my admittedly snooty objections, seeing Don Juan in Chicago was a fun and funny way to spend my Saturday afternoon. It had been far too long since I had me some Ives humor.

Don Juan in Chicago is playing through June 9. For tickets go here.

Too busy reading to chase after the ladies,

James "Uh...I Mean, I'm A Lady-Magnet!" Comtois

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