It takes a smart playwright to come up with something that’s simultaneously wittily literate and unashamedly big, broad and dumb. With “Don Juan in Chicago,” David Ives is that playwright. One can almost sense the glee he must have felt penning this breezy mash-up of the legends of Don Juan and Faust in which the titular character is anything but a smooth womanizer.
Arouet’s production pushes the play’s farcical elements almost to their breaking point, with every scene featuring an abundance of shameless mugging from the cast. It sounds tiresome, but Ives’ play practically demands it; a substantial portion of the script is in goofy rhyming verse, leading to exchanges like this one, between Mephistopheles and Don: “I’m here to dicker for your soul?” she asks. “If you don’t snicker at the role,” he responds, one pithy retort in a sea of nearly too clever phrases.
It’s those two actors — Dylan Smith as Don Juan and Caitlin Frances as Mephistopheles — who best embody the show’s silly charm. Smith has the guileless grin of a cartoon character in his version of Don, a scholar too obsessed with doing meaningful research to have time to lose his virginity. Frances’ self-deprecating devil makes him an offer: immortality as long as he sleeps with a new woman every night — no repeats allowed or it’s eternal hellfire.
Roping his underpaid servant, Leporello (a wry Zach Sanders), into the deal, Don agrees, figuring he’ll have plenty of time now for pursuits both scholarly and sexual. Too bad his scorned lover, Elvira (Amanda Falcone), made a concurrent deal with the devil and is now determined to trick Don into sleeping with her again.
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Half a millennium later, as the action progresses from 16th-century Spain to present-day Chicago, Don continues to put up with an increasingly tricky Elvira, but finds himself surrounded by others who might make it difficult for him to fulfill his end of the bargain, including a manic date and her jealous boyfriend (Kate Witt and Todd Hull) and a pesky neighbor and his moon-eyed girlfriend (Randall Brammer and Amberlee Williams, particularly funny as a cloyingly cutesy couple).
Director Joshua Jon keeps the action flitting along with his loose, light-touch direction, a perfect fit for material that doesn’t take itself seriously for a single second.
Dusty Somers: firstname.lastname@example.org