The HDC New Theatre Workshop has existed for the past two years mostly to give new actors and directors a chance to gain some stage experience. With the production of Juan Alono's The Death of Don Juan, which was published in the winter issue of the Advocate, the Workshop resumes its second function--producing new plays. The play proves quite good enough to deserve the author's further attention, but it still needs some.
Alonso's central idea is very interesting. His Don Juan is neither Mozart's energetic young lover proud enough to defy God, nor Shaw's immortal philosopher. Instead, he is an ageing man who, even though as the son of an angel he possesses the power to charm all woman, has never found a single woman he could love. The play shows his last attempt to find love, and its pattern is the tragedy of hope in the face of certain defeat.
Don Juan enters the play as a tired man, but willing to summon all his strength for one last try at love. The almost inevitable time for him to demonstrate that he indeed still possesses such a reserve is in a love scene with the heroine, a scene showing how he wins her on the eve of her marriage. But perhaps because of its very inevitability, Mr. Alonso has refused to write such a scene, and as a result Juan just never comes to life enough to make his story appear the tragedy it is supposed to be. By sheer force of personality, the jilted bridegroom dominates the play, thus damaging both its perspective and meaning.
Perhaps one of the reasons the production lacks energy is director John Hallowell's unwillingness to force the pace of the play and to transcend the limits imposed by the static scene divisions. And Eugene Pell, who plays Don Juan, is a little too listless throughout the production. In contrast, the performance of David Lange as the bridegroom is quite satisfactory, though he might try speaking somewhat more loudly. And both Louise Bell, as the near-bride, and Philip McCoy, as an old man, show frequent flashes of real acting ability. These people can all profit from Workshop experience, but the basic material of actors is present in them.
In the whole production, there is only one violently wrong note--the lighting, by Brinley Mac-Laren. The effect of Peter Chermayeff's intelligent and attractive set was frequently spoiled by Mac-Laren's experimentations, which for the most part meant too little light and playing around with a colored spot. He might remember that the stage is a visual medium, which implies that the actors should be visible.
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