Théâtre Français de Toronto has staged an imaginative, well-acted and smartly directed production of Moliere’s Dom Juan at the Berkeley Street Theatre Upstairs.
The play has some 19 characters and is episodic in structure as the arch-lecher in history pursues women and runs in and out of scrapes. Director Joël Beddows has judiciously reduced the number of characters to eleven with six actors playing all the parts. Pierre Simpson as Dom Juan and Marcello Arroyo as Sganarelle are the only actors who take one role each while the others handle the rest.
The plot follows the general outline of the story, perhaps better known from Mozart’s much later retelling in his opera Don Giovanni. Dom Juan is followed by his colourful and cowardly sidekick Sganarelle and chased by his wife Donna Elvira (Lina Blais who also plays Mathurine). He pursues the peasant girl Charlotte (played by Sophie Goulet who also plays Madame Dimanche). He is bawled out by his father Dom Luis (played by Nicolas van Burek who also plays Pierrot) to no effect. Eventually he goes to dinner with the Statue of the Commodor and gets his just reward.
Dom Juan (Marc LeMyre) – Lina Blais, Pierre Simpson, Sophie Goulet
Simpson as Dom Juan is a veritable chameleon, charming, ruthless, predatory, mendacious and romantic who leads an amoral life focused on the seduction of women. The sleek and slender Simpson gives a Dom Juan that is quite repulsive and attractive at the same time for his success in selfishness and ability to go through with his sins. Is he a Donald Trump with a better vocabulary and better manners?
Arroyo may well have the best role as Sganarelle. Moliere took this part when the play was first performed in 1665. Sganarelle is the opposite of Don Juan. He grows lyrical about the virtues of tobacco, moralizes about his employer’s life, and is a coward and a great character for an actor. Arroyo takes advantage of all of these traits and gives us a lively Sganarelle.
Lina Blais plays Elvira, the woman who was abducted from the convent, married Dom Juan and was abandoned by him. She is angry, vengeful, pleading and a classic victim. Blais also plays the peasant girl Mathurine that Dom Juan tries to seduce along with Charlotte, anther peasant. A fine performance.
Dom Juan (Marc LeMyre) – Nicolas Van Burek, Marcelo Arroyo, Lina Blais, Pierre Simpson, Sophie Goulet, Christian Laurin
Sophie Goulet plays Charlotte as well as Madame Dimanche (Monsieur Dimanche in the original play), the hounding bill collector. Again a well done performance.
Beddows sets a brisk pace and seems to have made cuts in some of the lengthy speeches. In the opening scene where Sganarelle praises tobacco and denigrates Dom Juan to Elvira’s brother Guzman (Christian Laurin), Beddows has the two men drunk and rolling on the floor and Guzman actually passes out. A fine way to jazz up the scene. There are similar touches throughout.
The only props on the stage are three transparent plastic cases. They are big enough to hold a person and are easily moved around. There are dressing rooms on each side of the stage where the actors change costumes in sight of the audience.
The costumes are modern, I suppose. The lower classes wear undershirts and pants, the women wear wedding gowns, a suit and ordinary clothes. But we do see ruffles on Dom Juan’s father Dom Luis (Nicolas van Burek).
Kudos to the cast and especially to Beddows for a fine and well-paced production.
The production is done in French with English surtitles. There is a lot of text to be followed on a screen above the acting area and it is not always easy to do it.
Dom Juan by Moliere opened on May 10 and will play until May 28, 2017 at the Berkeley Street Theatre Upstairs, 26 Berkeley Street, Toronto, Ontario. www.theatrefrancais.com