Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Seattle

Don Juan

Also see Jonathan's review of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

Pity poor Don Juan: over the centuries he has been reduced from being a trickster worthy of Loki or Coyote to a mere womanizer synonymous with (and often mistaken for) Casanova. Thankfully, the apex of Don Juan's anarchist existence is restored in Stephen Wadsworth's translation/restoration of Molière's highly controversial version of Don Juan, having its world premier at the Seattle Repertory Theatre.

Those familiar with Molière's drama are unfortunately used to a highly censored and bowdlerized version. Originally produced in 1665, the show was performed in its original text for one night only, after which it was cut to shreds by King Louis XIV's censors (the first known instance of censorship on the French stage, in fact). The show ran in its altered form for a month before closing and was never produced again in Molière's lifetime. The play was published in 1682, a decade after Moliere's death, and although it was intended to contain a great deal of the material suppressed during Don Juan's initial run, the censors intervened again, resulting in a mutilated masterpiece that makes little sense on the printed page or the living stage.

Thankfully in 1683 a version of the play was published in Amsterdam (thus outside of France's control), which attempted to restore the play to its former brilliance and biting social commentary. Stephen Wadsworth, acclaimed translator of the plays of Pierre Carlet de Marivaux (The Triumph of Love), has translated, adapted and staged a version of Molière's Don Juan based on this version, which remains remarkably relevant and topical over three centuries later.

Adam Stein
By now, you are probably wondering what all the uproar was about and indeed, on the surface, Don Juan (played by a wonderfully mercurial Adam Stein) seems an unlikely candidate for such heavy censorship. After all, Don Juan is essentially about a world-class rake and cad who goes through life flaunting the laws of God and man and gets sent to Hell for doing so. However, Molière's free-spirited Don goes a step further and challenges the laws and conventions of society, becoming a proponent of Enlightenment and rational thinking, as well a champion of social equality and exposer of the hypocrisy of both the ruling class and the church. In 1665, this was heady stuff (and indeed, wouldn't be taken to its bloody fullest effect until the French Revolution over a century later).

While the play still retains some of the slapstick Comedia-inspired antics (especially between Pierrot, played by Burton Curtis, and Charlotte, played by Mary Bacon and anything involving Laura Kenny, who is delightful in a multitude of roles), it is fleshed out and given incredible depth by moments of dramatic intensity and social commentary. When Don Juan attempts to bribe a devout beggar to blaspheme against God (a crime punishable by mutilation under Louis XIV) or when Don Juan's father (Frank Corrado) delivers a poignant speech on the need for honor in nobility, many a hackle must have been raised on its original opening night. And having Don Juan's valet Sganarelle (masterfully played by Cameron Folmar) act not only as the social conscious of the play but his master's intellectual equal was literally a revolutionary idea in royal France.

To a person, the cast of Don Juan is excellent and masters the comedy, drama, and most importantly the language of this challenging piece. Wadsworth has lovingly, if sometimes a bit too exactly, recreated the era in which the show debuted, thanks in large part to a dazzling set by Kevin Rupnik (recreating both the look of the original stage and the theatrical machinery employed in that era), opulent costumes by Anna R. Oliver (providing commentary on the characters and on the society) a sound design by Christopher Walker (incorporating French Baroque music) and a subtly over-the-top lighting design by Amy Appleyard.

While the play could use a touch of trimming, as there are a few too many instances where Don Juan and Sganarelle spout repetitiously on a topic, Don Juan is a masterful production that appeals to both the emotions and the intellect. Don Juan runs at the Seattle Repertory Theatre through April 13th. For more information visit

- Jonathan Frank

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