Sunday, March 15, 2015

Mozart's Don Giovanni Theatre Review

A Labor of Love

It took some getting used to (almost an hour) but Andrew Pardini finally began to win me over in Mozart's Don Giovanni, playing now through March 23rd at the Gala Theatre in Columbia Heights. It's a good thing he did, because he and co-star Alex Alburqueque are pretty much responsible for keeping this 2½ hour show afloat. Don Juan, he ain't; but Pardini's character certainly knows how to push buttons and grab an audience's attention.

The In Series scored a home run back in 2013 with Abduction from the Seraglio, as liberal an adaptation of Mozart as you're likely going to see/enjoy; but this translation (also written by Bari Biern) fails to inspire, missing out on the comedic aspects of a dramma giocoso. For starters, the titular character is no longer a charismatic, suave nobleman. He's a seedy "preacher" in an ill-fitting suit, trolling the country for "female companionship." I'm no Brad Pitt (by any stretch of the imagination) but Pardini doesn't strike me as the sexy, sultry type; yet one by one, the ladies in town bow to his advances... even coming back for seconds and thirds.

What Pardini does have, is an incredible booming voice. He also grows on you... slowly (but surely) becoming more powerful as the play progresses. Unfortunately, this has as much to do with the sheer lack of physicality of the remaining male cast members. Beginning with Pastor Stone's futile attempts at a duel, Giovanni dismisses each opponent with irreverent (and to be frank, ridiculous) ease. In fact, the only person effective enough to pose any sort of threat is Sister Elvira (Daniele Lorio.) A villain is only as good as his foil, and this production doesn't manage to produce any.

The show's best player is Alburqueque (by a wide margin.) This "lowly shepherd" steals the show with wonderful lines like, "Shhh... It sounds like a movie," and a myriad of priceless facial expressions. He definitely delivers the funny, something few else even attempt to... outside of Zerlina's comely "You should spank me," just before the end of a very-long first act.

Pardini and Alburqueque carry the lion's share of the vocals; but some songs take forever to unfold, especially Sister Anna's "I'll Never Forgive Him," a recap of sorts, which takes infinitely longer than what actually unfolded earlier on stage, and Ottavio's equally bland "Angels of Mercy." The second act is thankfully shorter, but plays around with Heaven and Hell, while drifting even further away from any signs of promised humor.

Music is top-notch, thanks to conductor Stanley Thurston and his above-par sextet, who occupy the left corner of a relatively barren set. Outside of a few Elmer Gantry-esque signs and a couple of plain tent cloths, there isn't much to look at... putting even more pressure on the show's performers to hold our attention. Crazy as it sounds, one local critic referred to the set as "ingenious," so perhaps my opinion isn't worthy of being "set in stone" (spoiler alert.) Kudos for good lighting (Alex F. Keen) but overall, set design and costumes left a lot to be desired.

Mozart's Don Giovanni has its moments, but ultimately there aren't enough to warrant a 150-minute investment. Perhaps next time, a more playful approach will make up for other deficiencies.

Grade: D+