‘Don Juan’ returns in Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre production

Cast of Don Juan

Gayle Pazerski, Lissa Brennan, David Whalen, Catherine Moore and Melinda Helfrich in Don Juan Comes Back From the War. Photo by Jasmine Goldband.

Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre’s production of “Don Juan Comes Back from the War” is likely to send audience members home with more questions than they had at the beginning.

And that’s perfectly fine with playwright Duncan Macmillan and director Alan Stanford.

The production stars popular Pittsburgh actor David Whalen as Don Juan, the legendary lover whose well-earned reputation for seducing and abandoning women has made him both a pursuer and an object of feminine conquest.

The opening scene shows Don Juan as a shell-shocked German soldier and one of the first to return to Berlin from the front during World War I.

He’s naked and cavorting drunkenly with equally naked women on what he vows is his final fling before he begins a quest for redemption.

“Don Juan is able to be all things to all women. But now he is older, more broken, damaged, possibly dying and asking himself some inconvenient questions,” Macmillan says.

“At the beginning, he is an object of desire and, by the end, he is a piece of street meat,” Stanford says. “He’s a fallen angel. But that is too simple. It’s much more complex than that.”

His reformation is hampered by his reputation that precedes him, Macmillan suggests.

Don Juan is not unlike revolving rehab celebrities like Lindsay Lohan or Amanda Bynes, whose bad behavior becomes so much a part of who they are and what people expect that they can’t escape it.

“When you really delve into the psychology, there’s something very lonely about this,” Macmillan says.

Macmillan’s play is a new version of a play Odon Horvath wrote in Germany in 1936, which Macmillan adapted to make it more contemporary and easier to act.

Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre is staging the play’s U.S. premiere. It has only been produced once before, at the Finborough Theatre in London in 2012.

The play emphasizes the ambiguity of Don Juan’s journey. Throughout the play Don Juan alternately refers to himself as God or the Devil and fluctuates between saying he is in heaven or hell.

“To my mind, the significance of ‘Don Juan Comes Back from the War’ is the idea of a libertine and lover of luxury facing hell,” Stanford says. “Heaven would be to find his lost love or party on forever or to die, which would release him from hell.”

In fact, it may already be too late for reformation. Don Juan may already be in hell after dying at the front or lying near death and delirious in a hospital ward.

The play’s succession of scenes, use of six female actresses to portray the play’s 21 women, lack of other male characters and aura of time in suspension opens the action and outcome to interpretation.

“Good drama is about live decision-making. The audience should be on the edge of their seats, because they know what they want Don Juan to do and what his instinct is telling him to do — to redeem himself,” Macmillan says. “But it’s much more exciting if he is not. It should be morally complicated.”

Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or acarter@tribweb.com.
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