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LA Theater Review

Don Juan Dispenso

Actor-writer-director Tony Tanner has an offbeat, intriguing take on the Don Juan story that lurches among the humorous, tragic, and occasionally bewildering. The tone of the piece presents a daunting challenge, and while Tanner's cast is generally solid, the actors don't fine-tune their performances to pull it off.

Tanner chooses Europe of the 1920s and '30s for the modern updating of the tale, and the play is replete with European characters strewn across the path of the sexually marauding Don Juan (Ahmad Enani). His conquests include Constanza (Gina Manziello), the daughter of his beloved uncle Max (Jan Johnson); Don Juan's professor Dona Ana (Julie Evans); a Contessa (Suzanne Hunt); a wildly promiscuous German lady (Susan Hanfield); and a common whore (Anita Adcock).

But Don Juan's most vengeful act is the conquest of Nancy (Sarah Casolaro), the teenage daughter of a Midwest American couple (Scott Ryden and Debra D.J. Harner) who seduced Don Juan during a particularly distasteful tryst in Venice. To avenge his humiliation, Don Juan rapes the innocent girl and sends her packing back to the Midwest in disgrace. In the end, of course, Don Juan gets his own comeuppance when he is transformed into the prison concubine of a fellow inmate. Don Juan's entire sad story is narrated by his faithful, if resentful, servant Sam (Kevin Scott Allen).

There are many conflicting currents in Tanner's retelling of the Don Juan story, from the basest eroticism to lofty ruminations on the nature of spiritual love. What is missed is a fuller psychological portrait of this complex character, either in the script or in performance. Enani ably captures the baser elements of Don Juan's character but fails to capture the vulnerable longings of this tormented creature. Tanner's script seems to veer off in a number of directions, diluting the power of the story.

The other members of the ensemble often seem to be equally perplexed by the flow of the story, and they somewhat disconnect from the roots of their characters. The exceptions are Johnson who, as the benevolent uncle Max, captures the poignancy of his character. Adcock is similarly adept at finding the essence of the street whore in her few brief appearances onstage.

Presented by Bare Bones Theatre at the Missing Piece Theatre, 2811 Magnolia Blvd., Burbank. Feb. 28–April 4. Fri.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. (800) 838-3006. Reviewed by Hoyt Hilsman

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