Don Juan, the extremely talented lothario, has been the subject of many works in all media. Even Moliere, the great French playwright who wrote Tartuffe and The Misanthrope (among many others) took a crack at him.
A production of his interpretation of the character, titled Dom Juan, opened last night at the Metropolitan Playhouse, translated and directed by Alex Roe. Moliere's version of the story follows Don Juan through his sexual exploits and abuses, and eventual retribution for his sins. Moliere's Dom Juan is dark, a bleaker and less romantic telling than many might be expecting.
Roe seems to have taken his directorial cues primarily from a line that occurs late in the show about everyone wearing masks of different sorts. He has then, centered his production heavily around the use of masks. These masks, created by Roe, Asaf Ronen, and Abby Smith, are beautifully designed, displaying a wide range of colors and emotions that are donned by various characters at different times during the show.
The masks are, at certain times, effective. When Don Juan (Tom Staggs) and his valet Sganarelle (George Sheffey) visit the tomb of a man Don Juan had killed the year before, two actresses, bedecked in featureless white masks, make intriguing statues that add greatly to the creepy effect Roe wants to capture. Sganarelle has a jovial brown mask he wears frequently that accents his character well, and an eyeless plastic mask serves Don Juan himself well when blind deception is the order of the day.
But Roe seems to enjoy playing with the masks a bit too much. There is one heavily choreographed scene in which Don Juan attempts to deal with two women simultaneously, both of whom talk to two identical masks held up by Sganarelle, while Don Juan himself works on the other women, or stands coolly removed from them both. It's an excessive moment, one that doesn't work particularly well for the production or communicating the show's ideas.
The production's five actors, when not involved in mask play, mostly come across well, with only Staggs and Sheffey not doubling roles. Stacey Cervellino, Sean Dill, and Stephanie Dorian all turn in a wide variety of performances in a wide variety of roles. They're usually funny, but almost always understated. Sheffey is effective as the comic Sganarelle who slowly begins to wake to his master's ways, but Staggs, while he has a good command of the language, never comes across as the irresistibly charming and seductive paramour as Moliere defined him.
With that necessary core element removed, Roe's production comes across with a much more uncertain air, making this Dom Juan more a fantasy than a cutting social satire. The masks do play into this, further establishing the production's fantastical air and resulting in a more labored Dom Juan, albeit one where the story still comes across.
It's not until the final scene - strikingly staged and performed - that the points, for Don Juan and for us, are really driven home, and this Dom Juan achieves its full potential. Roe may have taken too long getting there, but in this case, the destination more than made up for the journey.