I’ve seen a bit of Molière (and read more), but I didn’t know he’d taken on Don Juan. And I’ve smiled and chuckled at his comedies, but I’ve never been in audience that couldn’t stop laughing out loud.
Until now. At Zombie Joe’s Underground, the Frenchman’s cautionary comedy has us guffawing for the entire hour.
I think Jean-Baptiste meant Don Juan as a morality tale, rapping the knuckles of his era’s licentious nobles, with amusement sprinkled in. But under the baton of Alex Walters (ZJU’s newest director), the play becomes a nonstop caper of mocking and madness.
Don Juan is, of course, the prototype of a “love ’em and leave ’em” lothario, using irresistible charm to leap from bed to bed. But Robert Walters does not simply let callous egotism leak out the seams of a courtier’s elegance — he explodes, pouring out lust upon every warm body that crosses his path. An addict with an attitude, he blithely buttresses his bad-boy behavior with memes of mindless hedonism.
His valet Sganarelle — a favorite character Moliere uses to reveal and reflect on the subtext — can’t tell us anything we don’t already know about this tsunami of shamelessness. So Dorian Serna gives us the dilemma of all who serve the great — to keep his job by servilely condoning ever crueler violations, or blow the whistle and walk out.
Then there are the women. From the virtuous Donna Elvira (NJ Ambonisye) to the scheming Charlotte (Amy Muszynski), they reveal beneath their varied surfaces an appetite that answers the Don’s.
So do a couple of the men he meets (Jason Kaye, Irwin Moskowitz). Putting everyone — including Juan — in commedia clown makeup nicely underscores this point.
Other high-intensity performances round out this fantasy (which comes to resemble an ecstasy-fueled rave): Kaye’s abandoned Pierrot, Georgan George as Juan’s hapless (and rather heartless) mother, Moskowitz’s ineffectual Dimanche, Mariya Pesheva’s terrified Porter.
Finally, of course, the mysterious and implacable Commander (Kaye) and attending Ghost (Pesheva) lead Don Juan off to Hell. But he is, in this incarnation, utterly unrepentant.
In writing Don Juan, Molière of course was twitting the hypocrisy of Puritan and counter-Reformation attempts to corset sexuality; yet he also had in mind a serious critique of what we call sex addiction– as suggested by his biting subtitle, The Feast of Stone. But 340 years later, the corsets are off; and at Zombie Joe’s, the moral satire gaily gives way to farcical fireworks.
The Many Adventures of Don Juan, by Molière, directed by Alex Walters.
Presented by Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group, at the ZJU Theatre, 4850 N. Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood.
Saturday at 8:30, Sunday at 7:00, through May 24th.
Tickets: <www.zombiejoe.com> or (818) 202-4120.