Adapting a classic French play with a new translation has its perils and rewards. Collaborating with director David Kennedy, playwright Brendan Pelsue sets Moliere’s 1665 comedic drama in modern dress with contemporary allusions.
Known as the “Seducer of Seville,” philandering Don Juan is a snobbish scoundrel who has never met a woman he doesn’t yearn to seduce. An avowed atheist, he continually mocks the tenets of Catholicism. And only his valet Sgandarelle (scene-stealing Bjavesh Patel) dares to chastise him.
Allegedly, Don Juan is so charming that no woman can resist him – a difficult role for any actor to play -and Nick Westrate is hardly up for the challenge. Nevertheless, he acquits himself admirably.
Perhaps his most scandalous conquest is Dona Elvira (Suzy Jane Hunt), a once-pious nun who begs him to repent his evil ways. His caddish behavior has become so reprehensible that his father, Don Louis (Philip Goodwin), threatens to disinherit him.
(To find an actor with that kind of charisma, one need look no further than George Clooney’s TV Nepresso commercial: “The Quest”)
But I digress, which is not difficult since Pelsue’s interpretation of this narcissistic womanizer veers off-course in a multitude of ways, and Kennedy’s direction includes having Don Juan open the second act perched on the toilet and, later, grabbing and kissing one of scorned Dona Elvira’s brothers sent to kill him in the forest. Bisexuality, anyone?
“Don Juan” is the conclusion of Moliere’s satirical hypocrisy trilogy, which also includes “The School for Wives” and “Tartuffe.” So one can easily understand its societal critique and timely relevance, particularly during Sganarelle’s final speech.
Also appearing in this production are Jordan Bellow, Paul DeBoy, Carson Elrod, Claudia Logan, Bobby Roman and Ariana Venturi – with set design by Marsha Ginsberg, lighting by Matthew Richards, and costumes by Katherine Roth.
“Don Juan” runs through Nov. 23 at the Westport Country Playhouse.