Balagula Theatre has produced an impressive variety of shows in its decade-long history, but perhaps no show better represents all of the things that Balagula does well than its current production, Don Juan on Trial.
Part 18th-century French period piece, part absurd comedy, part philosophical drama and part tragic romance, noted French playwright Eric Emmanuel Schmitt's Don Juan on Trial is like a dinner sampler of all of the programming fare Balagula offers.
Theater co-artistic director Natasha Williams directs the show with an eye for making the very French play accessible to American audiences. She plays up the comedic one-liners, for instance, and adds live classical guitar accompaniment to create atmospheric cohesion among disparate elements of the script. Williams brings balance to Schmitt's earliest work, which, despite its gamboling pace and light-hearted veneer, takes the audience deep into the psyche of one of history's most infamous cads.
The play's three acts chronicle a fictional trial of an aging Don Juan, who is confronted by five of his former conquests. To pay for the thousands (yes, thousands) of broken hearts in his past, Don Juan must either marry and remain faithful for life or rot away in the Bastille. But, like the masquerade ball Don Juan thinks he is attending during the play's opening scene, Act I establishes each character's public veneer before it is later cast off.
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Kevin Hardesty's entrance as the lusty conqueror is full of confident flourish and seductive prowess; it's easy to see why the jilted women putting him on trial must cry, "Foul!" when one of them is swayed by his charm.
But this persona is all a facade, an approximation of his former self, and in Acts II and III, Don Juan is unmasked by a shocking secret.
Hardesty's transformation from the preening peacock of the first act to an ordinary man devastated by experiencing love in an unexpected form is engrossing. He easily captures the magnetism of Don Juan the legend but it is when he later realizes the truth that Hardesty, and the show as a whole, reach their zenith.
Schmitt's creative twist on the Don Juan story is that love can and will strike in whatever mysterious form it can.
Williams best interprets this understanding in a tender but complicated scene between Hardesty and Rachel Rogers' character, Angelique, Don Juan's would-be wife, whose monologue may well be used as a checklist for anyone to determine whether they are in love.
Ryan Case plays a small but powerful role, the Chevalier de Chiffreville.
Melissa Wilkeson is particularly well cast as the Duchess de Vaubricourt, instigator of the trial. With equal parts comedic flourish and subdued wisdom, she functions as the keystone of the production, preventing it from arcing too heavily toward the absurd or sagging too sentimentally into melancholy.