July 31, 2003



at the Sacred Fools Theater


Reviewed by Rob Kendt           

A past master at the smart, sketchy short-form playlet, David Ives tries his hand at a full-length here and mostly manages well, though he does some fast tap-dancing to pull it off. There are at least a dozen too many bad puns, creaky rhyming couplets, and pop-culture winks in this Twilight Zone take on the Don Juan story, which mixes in a little Faust, a little Seinfeld, even a little Marriage of Figaro.


It's a tribute to director Joe Jordan's fleet-footed, well-modulated direction that, though we're always aware of Ives' cleverness and the theatricality of his concept, and we can see some of his twists coming centuries away, we have a good time along the way.


Ives' Don Juan (Jeff Marlow) starts out in 17th century Spain as a cloistered alchemy nerd with neither interest nor experience in sex. His next science experiment: summoning the devil to ask for immortality. When Mephistopheles (Mark McClain Wilson, overmincing just a bit) arrives, choking on his own sulfur, he quickly agrees--on the condition that the virginal Don Juan bed a different woman every night or the jig is up and it's barbecue time. The don shakes on it and thoughtfully includes his servant Leporello (Michael Lanahan) in the bargain.


Good thing, as Leporello will be a key ally in his success--first with the conveniently ready and willing Dona Elvira (Ashley West Leonard) and then for centuries afterward, as the two work their way through the women of city after city, carefully noting names, dates, and locales so that the don doesn't dip his wick twice in the same place (part of the deal). Unaware of his deal and longing for a second chance is persistent Elvira, whose deal with the devil is an inverse of Don Juan's: She gets to live until she beds him again.


The logical extremes of this double fantasy provide most of the play's plot and also scratch at some existential pathos: What's the point of living forever when you've got to woo and screw someone new every night? Especially when there are complications, courtesy of a Durang-like misfit couple (Julie Alexander and Frank Stasio) and a dorky sitcom neighbor and his new girlfriend (Phillip Wofford and Maggie Marion). In other words, Ives' second act Chicago is closer to TV Land than Mamet, as even the play's warped complications get a tidy wrap-up.


As the increasingly world-weary but still self-involved don, Marlow gives a sleek, witty performance that bounces off Lanahan's Everyman rancor quite nicely, like Jeeves and Wooster in sitcom purgatory. Leonard pitches her desperate Elvira just about as far over the top as she'll go, making the most of Ives' funny-terrible doggerel verse and helping the ending, with its meaning-of-life felicities, go down like the dessert it is.


The same could be said of this production, which boasts fine costumes by Ruth Silviera and Mary Hayes and set by Carlos Fedos: It's a fruit-loopy divertimento, not Don Giovanni, and it's played here by a first-rate chamber ensemble.


"Don Juan in Chicago," presented by and at Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., Hollywood. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. July 17-Aug. 23. $15. (310) 281-8337.