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It's good to see Mother lose her head once in a while, even when it's as unenthusiastically as she does in the Winter Issue over Juan M. Alonso's The Death of Don Juan. The play, except for a short piece by John Ratte, comprises the entire number, and seems to be a very honest and ambitious attempt. But Mother won't admit she likes the play, which has qualities that even the most prudent might admire; she observes pontifically, "It is probably the only play of the past few years written by an undergraduate that has received any serious attention." That's safe enough all right, even if the grammar isn't the best. When she throws over her whole magazine to one writer, it represents quite a sacrifice, and she ought to be proud. She seems more concerned about her honor, however, and I guess we all know what happened to that, long ago.
Alonso's play has lots of honorable things about it, specifically, its honesty. If the reader gets past an unfortunate dedication ("to Betsy the midget"), he is immediately aware that here is thoughtful and imaginative work. Alonso is dealing with several intriguing problems--Love, Success, Eternity, Law, Individuality, and Suicide, to name a few--and for much of the time avoids turning his lines into aphorisms. The plot line, concerning Don Juan (who had an angel for a father and a mortal for a mother) and his search for a woman he can love, is original and lively in its telling. If his characters seem wooden, one can say that they are so because they are symbolic. If Alonso's people are not emotionally sympathetic, it is because they are mouthing their problems so intensely that they don't have time to be people. And it would be wrong to complain that Alonso is too ambitious, because that's what we need more of around here.
He has troubled youth brought face to face with eternity. Timeless Don Juan takes Fernando's woman away from him because he is supremely charming. But Don Juan dies having just completed the theft, and leaves Fernando ready to accept only the partial love of Gloria, who had loved them both but Don Juan more. And that's it. And it's quite a problem. "Success is the price you pay for having paid the price."
Technically, the play is disappointing. The major action, other than Don Juan's death, is the seduction of the girl. But Alonso does this off stage, leaving his readers panting to know just how this Don Juan is so clever with the ladies. The early scenes are loaded with lines which introduce the facts about Don Juan abruptly and in a back-handed way. His supernatural mother slips in, amidst great comforting of his unhappiness, "No man can harm you because you're the son of an angel, but you could end your sorrow yourself." There is no indication of time lapse between scenes, which is confusing. And Gloria exists twice in the last couple of pages without ever re-entering.
The major complaint with the handling of the material is in its language. Here are village peasants showing us universal problems. They must talk significantly, but they also must talk simply. Alonso seems to have used the vocabulary of an Eliot House cocktail party. "Legality is only superfluous," Fernando believes. Or "the going is uncontrollably downhill," or "eternity would be consciousness in a vacuum," or "perhaps love succeeded in vaccinating your dignity." These phrases become particularly sticky in love scenes between Gloria and Fernando, making them appear to be immature remembrances of a sophomore's love quarrels.
John Ratte takes us on another happy trip to Lawrison, which some residents of Lawrence, Mass. may suspect is their home town. Ratte, in Mr. Ssizle and the Tree Thieves, shows a real artist's eye for the colors of New England, and while his piece doesn't really say very much, it is a clean and softly done job.
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