October 15, 1998        




at the Los Angeles Theatre Center


Reviewed by Rob Kendt


In Randy Newman's ill-fated musical Faust, there's a witheringly hilarious scene in which the devil, allowed to visit Heaven for a while, chats with a little girl angel who admits she misses her friends on Earth but is otherwise OK with the afterlife. Sings the devil of the little girl's fate: "The man who shot you in the head/In that Burger King in Tucson/He'll never be punished, you know." God's explanation, as we see the girl's killer being welcomed into Heaven: "Contrition... sincere contrition."


That's pretty much the theological gloss we get, sans the irony, in Jos Zorrillo's Don Juan Tenorio, which, though it was written in the 19th century, sounds and feels like a much older play, even in this new English translation by Margarita Stocker (in an adaptation by Lina Montalvo and director Margarita Galban). Its mix of awkward, declaiming formality and plodding, episodic structure, not to mention its deus-ex-machina religious moralizing, give it the pace and gravity of a pageant (indeed, it's apparently a popular play to ring in All Saint's and All Soul's Days in Spanish-speaking countries). Galban's fine, committed actors strut and fret in Carlos' Brown's sumptuous costumes, but the main conflict played out onstage, apart from John Vargas' thrilling fight choreography, is between the actors' performances and the slow, methodical grind of the play, which portrays the guiltless debauchery, trickery, and perdition of Don Juan Tenorio (magnetic Luis Fernández) until his last conceivable breath, at which point he accepts God's grace and the angels sing.


Engineering this divine final solution is Dona Ines (beatific Rosita Fernandez), a novitiate Don Juan deflowers, then abandons, despite a lot of sweet talk about true love. She's the last notch in his wager that he can out-transgress the hothead Don Luis (an appealing John Paul), which also includes plucking Luis' fiancee (a stiff Ana Rey) on their wedding eve. As a break from all the saber-rattling and dick-swinging, there's some fiendish plotting on the part of a maid (played a tad too broadly by the talented Patricia Delaunay) and consternation on the part of a wronged patriarch (Ciro Suarez, with a striking silent-film countenance). Galban does close the play with a sure hand, making Don Juan's incredible contrition go down beautifully; Kathi O'Donohue's lights, lovely throughout, are of a gorgeous, appropriately heavenly cast here, and Ted Owens' music is likewise haunting.


Lending fine, lively support in a variety of roles are Franco Iglesias and Agust'n Coppola. Estela Scarlata's formidable, sturdy-looking palazzo set tends to overpower if not get in the way of the action‹another element which gives Don Juan Tenorio the distant, unknowable feeling of a pageant.


"Don Juan Tenorio," presented by the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts at the Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., Downtown L.A. Sept. 24-Nov. 1. (323) 225-4044.