Sunday, February 17, 2008

The devil at midnight

"Don Juan in Chicago" at The Midnight Sun

I see at least one play a week and sometimes more. It’s my job, and I love it. But that’s a lot of theater-going, so for me to go to a play that I’m not even going to review — and to actually pay for tickets for me, my wife and our best friend when theaters routinely comp me tickets — well, it’s got to be some kind of special play for that to happen.

Welcome to “Don Juan in Chicago” by David Ives, put on by Prodigal Sun Productions in the tiny fringe performance space The Midnight Sun in Olympia.

I haven’t laughed so much since watching Harlequin's hilarious production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in September 2006. Incidentally, two of the cast members in this show, Dennis Rolly and Christopher Cantrell, were in that show as well.

“Don Juan” is like a Shakespeare comedy updated for the 21st century — Shakespearean in the use of absurd situations, sexual jokes, histrionic gestures, people pretending to be other people, poetic language with hints of the Bard and Dr. Seuss; and updated primarily in the setting and the liberal use of the two words that are taboo in family newspapers and television shows.

It’s the 16th century and Don Juan (Tim Goebel) is not exactly the legendary lothario. He’s a 30-year-old virgin who has no interest in intercourse. What he is interested in is becoming immortal, and he makes a deal with the devil (Christian Carvajal) to live forever.

The only catch is that his contract with Mephistopheles requires that he must seduce a different woman every day and never have sex with the same woman twice. If he fails, he will die and be cast into hell for eternity.

Being the kind of guy who can’t get along for without the help of his trusted, overworked and underpaid butler, Leporello (Rolly), he asks the devil to grant Leporello immortality as well — without consulting the man. And the deal is even worse because Leporello has no control whatsoever. If Don Juan screws up and is cast into hell, he goes with him.

Flash forward to modern times in Chicago where we find Don Juan, now going by the name Don Johnson, sick and tired of all the women. He’d rather die than sleep with one more, but he’s afraid of going to hell, and Leporello frantically urges him to keep on seducing.

Thrown into this hellish mix are: Dona Elvira (Ingrid Pharris), his first lover, who has made her own deal with the devil and has been stalking Don Juan for 400 years to seduce him again; Sandy (Elizabeth Lord), whom he picks up in a bar but has slept with before (will he remember in time or die in her arms?); Sandy’s jealous boyfriend Todd (Cantrell); and possibly the most naïve couple the world has ever known, Mike (Erik Cornelius) and Zoey (Cass Murphy).

Outstanding job from first-time director Keith Eisner and one of the best ensemble casts I’ve ever seen. Rolly is a riot. Carvajal is the most deliciously evil devil imaginable. Lord is outrageously funny as the sluttiest woman in Chicago. And Pharris, who is quickly becoming my absolute favorite comic actress, goes through so many changes of looks and moods that she’s like a whole troupe of actors rolled into one. Think Imogene Coco and Carol Burnett with the added bonus of smoldering sexiness.

The final performances are next weekend, Feb. 21-23, and I’m told they’re likely to sell out quickly, if they haven’t already, so get your tickets in a hurry. Tickets are available through

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