Young talented artists who act, write, and direct are fueling the Off-Off-Broadway movement. Jason Kendall and Donna Stearns exemplify this type of artist, taking on nearly all the responsibities of play producing. Kendall produced, directed, and acted in Don Juan in Hell. Stearns wrote Martin Luther King, Mercutio and Dreams and appeared in Don Juan in Hell.
Shaw's Don Juan in Hell is the third act of Man and Superman. Martin Luther King, Mercutio and Dreams juxtaposes the philosophies of two very different leaders of the contemporary African-American community. On one side of the stage, a Kingesque minister, Dr. Parker (Butch Stevenson), calmly preached a philosophy of inclusion to heal racial wounds. On the other side a stand-up comedian, Mercutio (Charles Johnson), interspersed speeches from Romeo and Juliet with racist diatribes, calculated to inflame his audience. Stevenson and Johnson played off one another well but were handicapped by the narrow scope of their characters and the brevity of the piece.
Don Juan in Hell explores the adventures of the infamous cad after he has finally gotten his just deserts. After Don Juan has deflowered the noble Dona Ana and murdered her father, the Commandatore, Dona Ana erects a statue to her father. The statue warns Juan of his fate, but he refuses to heed the warning and is cast into hell. Fifty years later, Dona Ana arrives there as well, and old issues are stirred up. The Devil himself is in residence; an escapee from the dullness of heaven, he has started his own organization. And the Commandatore, now bored with heaven too, has made an appearance. The virtuous Dona Ana is understandably miffed about not being sent to heaven, but the debate begins as to what heaven and hell really are.
The actors all had a good grasp of Shaw's language and did excellent work with the long, wordy speeches. Unfortunately, three of the four actors were miscast; despite skilled acting, they were just too young. Daniel Carroll O'Leary was a handsome and glib Don Juan, but lacked the maturity and sexual energy needed to make his character come alive. Kendall's Statue was endearing, but it was too great a leap of faith to accept the boyish Kendall as elderly, even in well-applied makeup and grayed hair. Chris DePaola made a charmingly sleazy Devil, but he too lacked the age and sophistication needed to make this character truly disturbing. Stearns was an ideal Ana, beautiful yet world-weary. The role offered a showcase for her soaring talents.
Excerpts from Mozart's opera Don Giovanni added to the mock seriousness of the occasion. The uncredited lights and costumes were basic but effective, and the set was non-existent.
Don Juan in Hell
Martin Luther King, Mercutio and Dreams
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Copyright 1999 Julie Halpern