Westport Country Playhouse
Westport Country Playhouse is currently presenting Moliere’s “Don Juan” in a world premiere translation by Brendan Pelsue, which proves to be outrageous, somewhat amusing, but ultimately a bit underwhelming. It’s not that the production, directed by David Kennedy, doesn’t have some distinct virtues, particularly the skilled lead performance of Nick Westrate as the title character, but somehow the whole endeavor doesn’t quite come together as successfully as one would like.
This is too bad, for, on Marsha Ginsberg’s versatile and modern set design, the story of Don Juan and his escapades is certainly played out and the expected laughs are often there, with the cast being extremely capable and the director’s pacing of the production swift and to the point. Still, one is left a little let down by the show, however, with a hoped-for grand finale that seems to trail off, instead. Many will no doubt enjoy “Don Juan” at Westport Country Playhouse, but the evening on the whole proves to be more on the mild side, rather than offering something truly scintillating.
As stated, the performances are certainly not the problem. Playing Don Juan, first seen in a dazzlingly flashy suit (the excellent costumes are by Katherine Roth), Nick Westrate definitely has the charisma and slick style that are perfect for the character. Indeed, it is easy to see why the women in the play are all drawn to him. And Westrate can definitely deliver his lines with a great deal of flair and style.
Playing his loyal servant, Sganarelle, Bhavesh Patel is, if anything, even better than his estimable costar. Sganarelle is continually left with cleaning up the messes that Don Juan makes (sometimes literally) and Patel is pretty terrific in this role. Together, Westrate and Patel make quite a twosome and the evening travels far on their combined wit and sheer stage presence.
However, too often, these performers seem to be giving the play more than it is giving them. “Don Juan” starts out strongly, but, by the middle of the second act, this show begins to lose its footing. The remainder of the cast do everything they can to enliven the production. As Don Juan’s stern father Don Louis, Philip Goodwin is wonderful and makes this small role seem even bigger than it is. Also scoring in a supporting part is Paul DeBoy, who enacts a creepy statue come to life with enormous agility and a deeply haunting quality. (This scene is gloriously lit by Matthew Richards).
Some of the other actors in the show are good, but are a bit shortchanged by both the script and the, at times, wild locales in the play. In the show’s second scene, the stage basically contains a Coke vending machine and several bags of garbage. Against this backdrop, Claudia Logan and Ariana Venturi fight over Don Juan, in a futile try to pin him down. Both Logan and Venturi bring feistiness to their parts. In the same scene, Carson Elrod plays Pierrot, a somewhat dim kind of surfer dude and, like the two leads, he makes his dialogue sound as funny as possible.
Jordan Bellow, Suzy Jane Hunt, and Bobby Roman fill out the rest of the cast, all of whom get their big moments in the show. Unfortunately, by the conclusion, this “Don Juan” seems to just peter out, with a climax that never comes, despite the considerable efforts by both director David Kennedy and his reliable group of performers. Still, the audience at the performance I attended seemed to lap the show up, so it could just be a matter of taste. “Don Juan” at Westport Country Playhouse certainly does have its pleasures, but, ultimately, there are not enough of them to fully fill out the production overall.
“Don Juan” runs through November 23, 2019, at Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, Westport, CT. For tickets and information, please visit www.westportplayhouse.org or call the box office at 203-227-4177.
Photo: Philip Goodwin, Bhavesh Patel, and Nick Estrate
Photo by Carol Rosegg