Don Juan in Chicago
nytheatre.com review by Josh Sherman
May 30, 2007
Some days you get a case of the blahs. It happens to all of us at one point or another—it's raining, you spilled something on your clothes, you feel lethargic, and you don't really want do anything other than head home and mope. Fortunately, the Clockwork Theatre has a cure for any case of the blues that you may contract, and it's called Don Juan In Chicago. The company has produced a flawless comic gem that is guaranteed to wipe any frown from your face and leave you flush with the renewing glow that comes from a two-hour laughfest.
Written by that peerless quip artist David Ives, Don Juan In Chicago begins with the casanova king himself in Seville in 1599, working furiously on an unspecified alchemy experiment. When Don (a solid Mike Cinquino) is confronted by his bawdy manservant Leporello (a hysterically funny Doug Nyman), Don replies that he is summoning Satan for a business meeting, which explains to Leporello why all the frogs are falling from the sky. Quickly we learn that Don has no time for the ladies, and that he's having a crisis about turning 30—hence his foray into satanic summits. This beautifully sets up a terrific entrance from Mephistopheles (an equally hilarious Stephen Balantzian), who is zestfully gay and loving it, tossing zingers galore at the sexually inert Don. This leads to the contract to give Don his immortality, by which in return he must seduce a new woman into bed every day by midnight and never the same woman twice, else the devil gets his soul, and the soul of Leporello. Don agrees (without checking with Leporello of course) and Mephistopheles retreats after getting the blood signature on the contract.
Things heat up with the entrance of Don's romantic counterpart Dona Elvira (fetchingly played by Shayna Padovano), who has been madly in love with him for years. Winningly, Don and Elvira trade sexual banter in verse, showing us how they are in sync with one another. Don's unbelievable botching of his initial seduction of Elvira gives the film Roxanne a run for its money on the comedy scale, as the scribbled notes on his hand (from Leporello) get horribly mangled. But he manages to do the deed, saving his soul for another day; and after he leaves the scene, Elvira is approached by Mephistopheles (another great entrance) who makes a similar deal with her for immortality—she loses her immortality only after she makes love with Don one more time (which will of course kill Don due to his deal). "Aren't I a clever devil?" quotes Mephistopheles, in an example of the rapid-fire Ives repartee.
Fast forward four centuries (and one massive set change) to present-day Chicago, where Don Juan and Leporello are currently hiding from the immortal stalker Elvira, and are going by the names Don Johnson and Lefty. Acutely aware of the time with massive watches on each arm, Lefty tries to coax an exhausted Don to seduce Sandy (Dayle Pivetta), though his heart isn't really in it. As it turns out, Don has already romanced Sandy 23 years earlier so she won't really help the immediate life-and-death situation that Don and Lefty find themselves in. It becomes clear that the prior Don and Sandy tryst had produced a now 23-year-old daughter Zooey (a charming Virginia Stringel) who happens to be dating Don's nerdy neighbor Mike (Greg Barresi).
Ives's script feels familiar and if there's a single thing to pick on, it would be the formulaic plot structure of the piece itself. But the light-hearted direction from Owen M. Smith keeps the play bouncy in tone, which in turn keeps the audience at least engaged and at best enraptured. The piece is filled with Night Court-ish double entendres, Ives's stock in trade, no one does it better, and even if I had videotaped the piece, I couldn't do justice to the sheer volume of one liners and zingers. The actors, as diversely talented as any ensemble on the boards right now, have the right touch with the dialogue, steering the operatic plot to its inescapable conclusion with gusto and good humor. And yet, Smith has gotten the actors to tap into some of the play's darker moments, as in Act Two, where Don and Elvira face the consequences of their deals with Mephistopheles and their own possible mortality, to give the play's heft its due justice as well.
The production values on display are of an absurdly high caliber. The costume design work from Jocelyn Melechinsky is superb, as is the inventive scenic design from Efren Delgadillo, Jr. Clockwork Theatre has put up a terrific production with Don Juan in Chicago—a perfect date night for all the would-be New York casanovas in town to bring their Dona Elviras to.