MONDAY, FEBRUARY 12, 2018 AT 7:30 PM
Lucille Lortel Theatre (121 Christopher St.)
Adapted & Directed by Stephen Wadsworth
Featuring Jenny Bacon, Mary Bacon, Gilbert Cruz, Carson Elrod, Francesca Faridany, Adam Green, Adam Greer, Adam Stein, Allen Tedder, Raphael Nash Thompson and Stephen Wadsworth
In the hands of the great Molière, Don Juan is as much anarchic philosopher as irresistible lover, discoursing with his servant Sganarelle on heaven and hell, sex and politics, as he jumps from bed to bed, breaking every rule in the book. After its shocking opening night in 1665 Paris, the courtly censors had their way with the script, and it wasn’t seen as the playwright intended for generations. Stephen Wadsworth’s “extravagantly reimagined” (Washington Post) version “produces sheer astonishment” (New York Times), restoring the work to its original subversive brilliance, as Don Juan defiantly risks his soul to think and live as he pleases.
The OBIE Award-Winning Revelation Readings series provides a unique opportunity to hear rarely-produced classic plays performed by many of the finest actors in New York. Casting subject to change.
ABOUT THE PLAYWRIGHTS
Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (1622-73) was born into a relatively prosperous mercantile family; his father served as upholsterer to King Louis XIV. Jean-Baptiste was expected to study law and eventually inherit his father’s position. Instead, he founded the Illustre Théâtre in 1643 and took the stage name Molière to avoid bringing scandal on his family. After more than a dozen impoverished years touring the provinces as actor and occasional writer, Molière and his company returned to Paris and were soon called to perform for the king. Louis loved them and immediately set the troupe up in the Petit-Bourbon under the patronage of his brother, called Monsieur. From this point on, Molière’s career was closely tied to the court, and, strongly influenced by sharing the Petit-Bourbon theater with the Italian troupe of the great Scaramouche (Tiberio Fiorillo), he honed his genius as a comic actor and writer, creating a series of brilliant plays that satirized elegant society, including School for Wives, Tartuffe, Don Juan, The Misanthrope, and The Miser. As Tartuffe had a year earlier, Don Juan (1665) suffered at the hands of the critics and clergy, who considered the play an offense to religion in its celebration of a libertine. They hounded Molière, and despite the king’s unwavering patronage, the experience affected Molière profoundly, and he next created and played Alceste the misanthrope, railing at hypocrisy no less than had Don Juan, though in verse and in a more palatable comic style. Rousseau insisted the play was serious and Alceste a hero, not a fool. Molière died in 1673, shortly after performing the title role in the fourth performance of his new play, The Imaginary Invalid.
Stephen Wadsworth. Books: Molière: Don Juan (2017), Marivaux: Three Plays (2009). Plays: That’s Not Tango (with Lesley Karsten, 2017). Librettos: A Quiet Place (Leonard Bernstein, 1983), Amelia (Story, Daron Hagen and Gardner McFall, 2010), Uncharted Waters (Korine Fujiwara, 2019). Translations: the three Beaumarchais Figaro plays (2014-2016), Goldoni’s Mirandolina (1995), Maeterlinck’s Pelleas and Melisande (2016), Handel’s operas Xerxes, Alcina and Partenope, Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito, the Monteverdi trilogy, and Udo Zimmermann’s Weisse Rose. Honors/Fellowships: Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Republic of France), Harman/Eisner Artist in Residence (Aspen Institute), Sundance Playwrights’ Lab (Ucross), Sallie Bingham Playwrights’ Retreat (McCarter Theater). Wadsworth is The James S. Marcus Faculty Fellow at The Juilliard School, where he teaches acting, and Creative Adviser to the Sundance Theater Lab. As director, his theater work includes the Oresteia (Berkeley Rep, Getty Villa), Don Juan, the Marivaux cycle in numerous theaters, Shakespeare and Shaw at Old Globe, Wilde and Coward at Seattle Rep and McCarter, Master Class on Broadway and in the West End, and new work by Anna Deavere Smith, Beth Henley, Francesca Faridany and Ken Ludwig. His opera work include three productions at the Metropolitan Opera, a legendary Ring cycle at Seattle Opera, and stagings at La Scala, Vienna State Opera, Covent Garden, Santa Fe, etc.
ABOUT THE PLAY
Molière gradually evolved from struggling tragedian to inspired comic actor, from writer of comic sketches to full-blown social satirist—this last in a regime that was essentially authoritarian, though often rather lackadaisically so. Louis XIV played as hard as he worked, and though church and state were officially fused together, his court often seemed, and indeed was, surprisingly permissive. But in the spring of 1664, as Molière readied his first draft of Tartuffe for performances at Versailles, a national organization of religious conservatives, the Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement, readied their response.
The Compagnie, obsessed with promoting religiously correct thought throughout French society, had spies reporting on every aspect of French life and lobbied heavily at court. They had their eye on Molière, and even a month before the Tartuffe premiere agreed to do everything possible to stop the play. Tartuffe went on in private at Versailles, but Louis dealt with the conservative outrage by moving to suppress public performances. Molière, stung but defiant, started writing a new play that took Tartuffe’s most challenging themes several steps further.
This was Don Juan, a very plainspoken prose play with a free-thinking rationalist antihero downstage center. It said a lot of very shocking things—about church and state, the rampant hypocrisy in both, money, freedom of thought and speech, and the prerogatives of the individual. It said them very directly, and it said them loudly, right in the public square. Don Juan made French theater outspokenly political for the first time.
The Saint-Sacrement gang closed in, and by the end of the first performance (February, 1665) the play was shorn of its boldest gesture, a scene in which Don Juan tempts a pauper to curse God in exchange for money—a Louis d’or in fact, a coin named for the king and imprinted with his likeness. Although the play was a runaway hit for the company, when they reopened after the Lenten season it was nowhere to be seen. The censors had stopped it and would continue to dismember and change the play for the next century or two. Molière never heard it again, and neither, really, did anyone else, though the play reappeared time and again in versions increasingly anodyne. Disappearing Don Juan remained an idée fixe of the censors for decades.
The received text of Don Juan, we know, cannot simply be called Molière’s. So many people had cut, stripped, misreported, buried and rewritten the play that only its bones remained. Joan DeJean, a scholar of Molière and French culture, urged me to study the received text against editions printed outside the purview of the French censors, and reanimate the play from Molière’s point of view. This version supposes what could or might have been heard that winter night in 1665, and means to bring modern audiences into the embattled hour of the play’s premiere—the high stakes for all involved, and the alarming effect the text and its ideas clearly had on those present.
Stephen Wadsworth’s version of Don Juan was commissioned by the Seattle Repertory Theatre and the McCarter Theatre and has recently been published by Smith and Kraus.
Having abducted Dona Elvira from a convent, Don Juan deserts her to continue his life of amorous intrigues. While en route to his next sexual conquest, his boat capsizes and he is rescued by a peasant, whose fiancée he is about to seduce when he is attacked by a group of armed men. He and his servant Sganarelle hide in disguise in a forest, where Don Juan rescues a nobleman from robbers. The nobleman turns out to be Elvira’s brother Don Carlos, who temporarily abandons his plan for revenge against Don Juan for dishonoring his sister. Next, Don Juan happens upon the tomb of the Commander, whom he killed, and invites the old man’s statue to dine with him. Don Juan returns to his lodgings and informs his father that he has repented for his life of misdeeds, when in fact he has decided to adopt the pretense of religion so he can pursue his licentious life with even greater ease. The statue arrives at the appointed hour and leads Don Juan to hell, as Sganarelle despairs that now he will never recover his lost wages.