Theater

Jean-Paul Sartre's Men Without Shadows; Jenny Lyn Bader's None of the Above; Molière's Don Juan

The play's press people tout it as investigating issues of "entitlement, intelligence, the pressure to succeed, and the nature of risk." If only. Bader cops out on all these issues. Clark chastises Jamie for the carelessness of the rich after she trashes a precious Ming vase because she could. Turns out she didn't really break it, but was protecting a cad of a boyfriend.

The playwright does sketch in what should be a poignant family background for each of her likable protagonists. Clark counts words compulsively because the strategy helped him deal with his parents' brutal arguments; Jamie fucks up as a ploy to gain attention from jet-setting Dad and workaholic Mom. Pill, pert and feisty, and O'Neill, a hyper sad sack, strike sparks as they spar, but neither manages the underside of vulnerability that would make these lovers more satisfying as people. Julie Kramer directs this New Georges production with a high-energy pacing that whips up the laughs but short-changes the potential three-dimensionality of these kids.

As Jamie and Clark race toward their denouement, the plot twists escalate from the improbable to the ridiculous. But, to borrow a few words from their SAT test, while the play's action may be facile, Pill and O'Neill are so affable and their wrangling so piquant that you hanker to capitulate to this thoroughly recreative endeavor. —Francine Russo

Men Without Shadows: Sartre's No Exit follow-up
photo: Richard Termine
Men Without Shadows: Sartre's No Exit follow-up


Don Juan
By Molière
The Lucille Lortel Theatre
121 Christopher Street
212-239-6200

Molière's Don Juan is often treated as a tragedy erroneously disguised as a farce. The philosophical weight of the play regularly gets the better of its buoyant wit and style. Sure, its ideas are heady, but is that reason enough for the dour approach favored by most directors and academics? Only those with too frothy a definition of comedy would insist that serious thematic substance necessarily means serious drama. In its withering assessment of the tyranny of our appetites, Molière's merriment has profound intellectual bite. He penetrates our stony defenses by using our own laughter against us. Even in his darkest of human diagnoses—and Don Juan presents a truly fatal case—the playwright can't resist opting for the dialectical agility of comic play. Ponderousness, he knew, was best left to those supporting characters clucking their hypocritical morality in the tidal rush of the audience's hilarity.

Director Bartlett Sher's production of Don Juan tries to serve as a corrective to the tragic school of Molière. The result, however, is something equally ludicrous, a screwball version that's all gags and no thought. From Christopher Hampton's elbow-nudging "translation" (which demands a guffaw with every stupid use of the word "fuck") to the clownish mugging grotesquely distorting the features of the cast, this Theatre for a New Audience revival illustrates just how difficult it is to arrive at the proper Molière-ian balance between gravity and levity.

The erratic intrusion of meta-theatrical antics certainly doesn't help matters. Sher, who did such a bang-up job directing Harley Granville Barker's Waste for TFANA, has a stage prompter on hand fixing the scenery and feeding lines. Two actors, planted in front-row seats, are forced to begin their scene with an "impromptu" make-out before goofing their way onto the stage. This unfunny fourth-wall meltdown subsides in the second act, though it's never clear what place it had in the first, save satisfying the anxious demands of Hampton's "Is-it-funny-enough-for-you?" adaptation.

Byron Jennings makes a rather ghoulish-looking Don Juan, more Marquis de Sade than Molière in his polymorphously perverse hauteur. Even with a translation that risks contemporary anachronism at every turn, our promiscuous protagonist need not conform to contemporary notions of sex appeal. The Don's seductiveness stems from his commitment to his own carnal satisfactions—he knows what he likes and his pull is that of timeless greed and selfishness. The dandily attired Jennings, however, emphasizes the Don's aristocratic power at the expense of his character's connoisseur-like relationship to women—the true source of his power to entrance even the most innocent of convent girls.

Set for much of the action in the Don's wardrobe (abstractly designed by Christopher Akerlind), the production clearly wants to uncloset the humor of Molière's most serious comedy. The relentless buffoonery, however, proves ultimately as wearying as the dullest French professor's classroom diatribe. —Charles McNulty

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