Theater Review: Shaw on heaven and hell
By Jim Lowe
Staff Writer | August 26,2013
Jim Lowe / Staff Photo
Matthew Winston is Don Juan and Mary Wheeler is Dona Anna in the Unadilla Theatre reading of “Don Juan in Hell.”
MARSHFIELD — “Don Juan in Hell,” George Bernard Shaw’s imagining of a debate between Don Juan and the devil, is actually the third act of his 1903 play “Man and Superman” but is most often performed by itself.
Unadilla Theatre opened its reading of “Don Juan in Hell” on Wednesday at its Festival Theatre. Though under-rehearsed, it proved fascinating, witty and perversely funny.
“Man and Superman” is a comedy of manners about a man and the woman who is enticing him to marry her, and all its ramifications. “Don Juan in Hell” goes a step further, employing three characters from Mozart’s opera “Don Giovanni” and adding the devil to espouse Shaw’s generally cynical attitude toward society.
The action takes place after the opera’s end. Don Juan (Don Giovanni) has been sent to hell by The Commander (Commendatore) for his licentious living and serial seductions of thousands of women. There he meets Dona Anna, his first conquest in the opera, who has been sent to hell despite her claims of honorable living.
In “Don Juan in Hell,” Don Juan doesn’t really represent the character of Don Giovanni; rather, he represents the beliefs of Shaw himself. Don Juan is bored with the earnestness, fake romanticism and intellectuals in hell and wants to go to heaven. (This certainly cannot be Don Giovanni!) The Commendatore, however, is bored with heaven’s realism and wishes to join the devil in hell.
Still, most interesting is the banter between Don Juan and the gloriously hypocritical Dona Anna, played in the Unadilla reading with unrelenting wit by Matthew Winston and Mary Wheeler, respectively. Their repartée was delicious.
Still, the most important discussion was between Don Juan and the Devil, played by Bob Belenky. Although Shaw gets a bit verbose, it’s truly a fascinating and often witty discussion on the “meaning of life.” The Commendatore, played by Tony Pearce, represents the conventional desire for life’s simple pleasures.
The production, directed by Unadilla founder Bill Blachly, was appropriately simple with each actor reading from a separate lectern.
A philosophical discussion like this could prove tedious, but not with the able wit of George Bernard Shaw.
Unadilla Theatre presents a reading of George Bernard Shaw’s “Don Juan in Hell” at its Festival Theatre, 501 Blachly Road in Marshfield; remaining shows are Aug. 29 and 31 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $20, $10 for 12 and younger; for reservations call 456-8968 or email Unadilla@pshift.com. For information, visit www.unadilla.org.