Peter Jorgensen

The legendary Don Juan returns to Vancouver’s Cultch Historic Theatre for Blackbird Theatre’s adaptation of Molière’s 17th century Spanish play. Director John Wright consulted every available version of the play in preparing for Blackbird’s adaptation, finding the perfect style for Cultch audiences to enjoy.

Peter Jorgensen, Simon Webb, Barbara Kozicki
[Peter Jorgensen, Simon Webb, Barbara Kozicki]

Molière’s characters Dom Juan and Sganarelle are the French counterparts to the Spanish Don Juan and Catalinón, characters who would later become familiar to opera goers as Don Giovanni and Leporello. Don Juan is translated from both the play’s title and its main character. And what a suave character that is.

From the start, the audience gets a seductive fix of Peter Jorgensen’s Don Juan, a dark-haired, ponytailed Casanova. His servant Sgnarelle (brilliantly performed by Simon Webb) plays somewhat of a dysfunctional support system to Don, as he backs up Juan’s every desire and statement (though bringing the audience to laugher as he secretly cringes behind his master’s back).

Don Juan is married to Doña Elvira (Barbara Kozicki), a former nun, who first appears on stage wearing a beautiful golden gown with frilly white lace. At once she wishes to hear why Juan has left her side; she’s suspicious of Don’s “extracurricular activities” early on in the play. Instead of Don answering her, he summons poor Sganarelle to make up an answer for him. By now, Doña Elvira hopes for the best lie that he can muster. The scene leads to the often quoted “Beware the fury of a woman scorned!”.

Pippa Mackie, Peter Jorgensen, Barbara Kozicki
[Pippa Mackie, Peter Jorgensen, Barbara Kozicki]

Meanwhile, Don is out playfully flirting with the village peasant girls, in particular two women, each believing that Don is charming them exclusively. What they don’t realize is that Don Juan has no plays to marry either. Charlotte’s (Pippa Mackie) facial expressions as she’s being wooed by Juan are priceless! Barbara Kozicki’s secondary role as Mathurine (the other peasant girl) adds a cheerful complement to Charlotte’s character.

Charlotte’s fiancé Pierrot (Sebastien Archibald) catches Don and Charlotte in the middle of a seductive pose, leading to the first of many fights on stage, the biggest one being Don Alonso (Ted Cole), Elvira’s older brother who’s ready to fight Don Juan for abandoning her.

Sebastian Archibald, Simon Webb
[Sebastian Archibald, Simon Webb]

The stage set includes a series of columns projecting colourful motifs, adding depth and atmosphere to the simple design, featuring an early period red and off-white checkerboard floor. The detailed costumes are rich and colourful; the masks are each unique and add character to the actors.

I was especially fond of the white face mask worn by Don Juan’s father, Don Luis (Ted Cole), with accentuated wrinkles and narrow eyes in its design. When telling his son “The shame of having given you a life”, the mask really adds an accent of disappointment to his words. Luis’ costume is also beautifully matched. The acoustics during certain scenes in act two were brilliantly executed thanks to the wizardry of Ryan McCallion.

As Elvira returns to the stage during the second act (this time all in black), it is to let Don Juan know that she has rejoined the convent and to warn him of impending doom if he doesn’t repent his sinful ways. She’s inspired to save him, but all he can do in return is ask her to spend the night, opening up his charm once again.

Juan does renounce his ways, in front of his father, but it’s a simple ruse to appease him. “Hypocrisy is a prized vice – it’s an art!”

Without giving away the premise leading to the story’s conclusion, at the end Sganarelle is left on stage banging his hands on the ground, laying in sorrow after witnessing his master’s demise. He stammers, “by his death everyone gets satisfaction. Heaven offended, laws violated, girls led astray, families dishonored, relatives outraged, wives ruined, husbands driven to despair, they all are satisfied. I am the only unlucky one. My wages, my wages, my wages!”

Peter Jorgensen and Simon Webb play very well off of one another. The rest of the cast are strong, all playing multiple roles. It’s pretty amazing to see only six people bow on stage at the end of the show.

Peter Jorgensen, Pippa Mackie, Sebastian Archibald, Simon Webb
[Peter Jorgensen, Pippa Mackie, Sebastian Archibald, Simon Webb]

You’ll have to see this play to enjoy John Wright’s playful direction, the wonderful costumes and masks designed by Marti Wright (assisted by Darryl Minot), and an original rock mass for choir and electric guitar composed by Peter Berring and the Vancouver Cantata Singers. Don Juan continues through January 26 at The Cultch.

All photos by Tim Matheson.

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