Moliere’s DON JUAN: A Must-See Modern Adaptation

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Celebrated actor Anthony De Sando comes to Philadelphia to bring Don Juan to life in Quintessence Theatre Group's production of Moliere's DON JUAN, playing at the Sedgwick Theater in Mt. Airy through March 13.

Molière’s DON JUAN, in a new translation by Neil Bartlett, is being presented by the Quintessence Theatre Group at the Sedgwick Theater in Mt. Airy, February 19th through March 13th.  Given that STAGE Magazine readers are comprised mostly of people who love theatre arts, I must say that this is most definitely a production you do not want to miss. 

Upon arrival at the box office I was greeted with apologies because the Sedgwick, like most of the businesses on the block, was suffering a power outage due to heavy winds which pummeled our region on the 19th.  It was explained to me that this evening’s performance would be powered by generators acquired by lighting director, Mike Billings. Though the lobby was packed with ticket holders waiting to be seated, I was encouraged to return the following night when I could see the show fully lit.  Mt. Airy is a bit of a hike for me so I declined the invitation to return another night explaining that I share with most audience members the gift of imagination which allows one’s mind to fill in what may otherwise be missing.

Besides, I approach all theatrical productions with a strong belief that no matter how superbly designed the lighting, the sets or the costumes, a play will always fail its audience through inauthentic acting.  So, it mattered very little to me that production values were compromised by a storm on opening night.  As it is, the makeshift space used by the Quintessence group is in a fixer-upper section of what is left of the old Sedgwick, an historic art deco movie palace.  Therefore, my interest was less with stagecraft and more focused on high expectations for experiencing a well-acted adaptation of Molière’s DON JUAN.

My expectations were not only met, they were exceeded.  Bartlett’s 21st century (2004) adaptation of this 17th century classic is delightfully current in its unflinching look at hypocrisy which abounds as much today as in the past.  While staying true to the scene-by-scene story line in Molière’s original, Bartlett has cleverly translated timeless moral ambivalences into engagingly intelligent and often humorously delivered dialogue that successfully taps into the shared consciousnesses of today’s audiences.  For those wishing a synopsis of the play please see http://www.theatrehistory.com/french/donjuan001.html

If ever there was “an actor’s play” this is it.  And the performances by all in this production are absolutely superb.  The title role is performed with impeccable style by Anthony De Sando, an actor with numerous stage, film and television credits.  De Sando exquisitely captures the passion-seeking, conquest-driven, womanizing, self-assured, unrepentant, and live-for-the-moment character that is Don Juan.  It seems his only smattering of conscience comes in the form of his often disapproving, but loyal to a fault servant, Sganarelle, portrayed with exceptional skill by John G. Williams whose comedic timing and captivating expressions provide a perfect counter-balance to De Sando’s unerringly provocative portrayal of Don Juan.

As his most recently abandoned fiancée, Dona Elvira, Jessica Dal Canton’s performance is riveting both in the intensity of her scorn in confronting Don Juan and later in the earnestness of her appeal for him to mend his ways before it is too late.  Bethany Ditnes is captivating in her portrayal of the servant girl, Charlotte, who becomes the subsequent target of Don Juan’s affections.  The scene in which two servant girls, Charlotte and Maturine are both simultaneously being wooed by Don Juan is just one of the many highlights that delighted the opening night audience.

Engrossing performances are also generously served up by Robb Hutter as the profoundly disappointed father of Don Juan, and by Daniel Fredrick, Ken Sandberg and Griffin Stanton-Ameisan, whose portrayals of further characters, essential to the unfolding plot, are without exception wonderfully accomplished.

Within the mission statement of the Quintessence Theatre Group is their expressed desire to “ignite the mind through the power of the actor…” and to “produce theatre which is immediate and necessary…by challenging its artists and audiences alike to consider what is essential in the theatre and in human nature.”  Their production of DON JUAN succeeds marvelously in satisfying their mission.  When you go to see this must-see production, I’m sure the lighting will be fully functional, but I doubt you will notice because your attention will be way too immersed in the immensely absorbing interactions always taking place between this very talented group of actors as they bring their characters and this story to life.

Moliere’s DON JUAN
Translated by Neil Bartlett
Directed by Alexander Burns
February 16 – March 13, 2011
Quintessence Theatre Group
The Sedgwick Theater
7117 Germantown Avenue
Philadelphia PA
215.240.6055
www.quintessencetheatre.org  

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Ronald Comer

Ronald Comer

RON COMER began his love of theatre in the 1960’s and then moved to Los Angeles where he studied acting at the Theater of the Living Arts, and was for a short time in college a theater arts major. He toured nationally playing in The World of Carl Sandberg and Spoon River Anthology. Local favorite roles have been in Gigi, Fiddler on the Roof, The Fantasticks, She Stoops to Conquer, The Best Man, Picasso at the Lapin Agile, The Music Man, and The Scarlet Pimpernel. Before writing for Stage Magazine, Ron has written published reviews for The King and I, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Twilight Time, and The Lion in Winter. He has degrees in Psychology, Counseling, and a Doctorate in Social Work. For the past twenty-three years he has also kept his “day job” in teaching, and is a Clinical Associate Professor and Department Chair of the Behavior Health Counseling Bachelor of Science degree program within Drexel University’s College of Nursing and Health Professions.

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