Blackbird Theatre presents a new adaptation of Molière's Don Juan at The Cultch Dec. 28 to Jan. 26. To purchase tickets visit thecultch.com or call 604-251-1363.
IN one corner, a seductive and freethinking libertine. In the other corner, God.
Don Juan, a comedy about unrepentant hedonism and the consequences of impertinent dinner invitations, opens tonight at The Cultch and runs until Jan. 26.
To bring the wholesale marriage-monger to life, director John Wright recruited former Sutherland secondary student Peter Jorgensen to bring both humour and song to the famed swordsman.
"Because of my musical abilities John's asked me to sing an aria and accompany myself on the guitar," Jorgensen says. "He's using all the skills that I have, maybe abusing them, I'm not sure."
This incarnation of the 350-year-old Moliere-penned satire features excerpts from Amadeus Mozart's opera Don Giovanni as well as a Latin mass with howling guitars, a fusion Wright uses to underscore the tension between Don Juan and his eternal rival.
"As I see it, the play pits Don Juan against God, so that element needed to be somehow expressed," Wright says. "I wanted to have a mass, and I wanted it to speak of an antique time in the life of the church because religiosity is being satirized in the play and so is hypocrisy."
Religion draws a dividing line between Don Juan and his beleaguered, devout servant.
"Don Juan is a man who, in my opinion, is certain that there's no God, and he's paired up with Sganarelle, his servant, who is absolutely certain that there is a God," Jorgensen says. "Because Don Juan's an atheist, he lives without fear, he's going to do things without fear that the hand of God is going to come down and smite him, where Sganarelle is constantly fearful that that's going to happen."
In living his life as though God is either impotent or nonexistent, Don Juan is able to observe the hypocrisy of many scoundrels who seek shelter under the cloak of religion.
"He's really a very modern anti-hero, and I think of him as heroic at the time in his struggle against hypocrisy and against a dogmatic church," the director says.
"I've played a lot of rogues, I guess," Jorgensen acknowledges. "I always approach them trying to find their own personal truth and Don Juan really believes that morally, he's OK."
Even while conquering women like Alexander the Great conquered countries, Don Juan is true to his own code.
"There's no hypocrisy with him, he says what he believes and he acts on it, where everyone around him tends to often act in opposition to their beliefs," Jorgensen says. "The play itself was a reaction to the hierarchy of the time and the hypocrisy that Molière saw all around him, so Don Juan is, in a way, a hero in the play."
The quintessential Don Juan has the same effect on a woman's good judgment as Long Island iced tea has on good balance, but Wright needed an actor who could do that while looking comfortable in 17th century garb.
"He has, from our perspective the look, the elegance, and the great comic chops, and the musicianship," Wright says of Jorgensen.
Despite credits ranging from directing Fiddler on the Roof to playing George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life, Jorgensen was initially reluctant to pursue acting as a livelihood.
"Not many people, unless you've tried it, really understand the kind of endurance and the focus that it takes to be up there for two hours," Jorgensen says.
Since being enrolled in piano lessons at six years old, Jorgensen seemed headed for a career as a musician.
He played in Sutherland's band and choir, and studied jazz at Capilano University, but all the while he was unwittingly compiling the skills he would need as an actor.
"There's rhythm in everything," Jorgensen explains. "So many of the facets from the musical side are tools that you can use as an actor."
He had done a fair amount of community theatre, but it was a 1996 production of Into the Woods that finally ushered Jorgensen into a career in drama.
"That was probably a turning point for me because it was Stephen Sondheim," he recalls, discussing the composer perhaps best known for penning "Send in the Clowns" as well the lyrics and music for Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
"As I started listening to his stuff and what he did with music and how he used music to tell stories, that really hooked me into theatre, and the integration of storytelling and music was something that seemed to really resonate with me," Jorgensen says.
The production also introduced Jorgensen to Simon Webb, the actor portraying Sganarelle.
"You can kind of do away with your inhibitions or your reservations and just play, and that's one of the joyous parts about working with Simon," Jorgensen says. "It's the combination of those two characters together that create a lot of the dynamic of the piece."
Don Juan, the story of spoiled virtues and savoured vices premiered nearly 350 years ago, but its frosty reception initially doomed the play to a similar fate as Don Juan himself.
"In a way it hasn't endured," Wright says. "When it opened it offended so many people that it closed in about 15 days and wasn't performed again for 200 years. . . . There were some bowdlerized versions of his play that were done from time to time, but Molière's version of the script was finally discovered, a couple of hundred years later, in Holland."
It's that version that Wright is currently staging. "It's my favourite play of Molière's. It's modern, feels modern in its ideas," he says.
"Even though it's hundreds of years old, those questions are still relevant," Jorgensen agrees.
Asked what he would say to entice an ambivalent audience-member into the theatre, Wright hesitates for just a moment.
"It's two duels, three songs, and a trip to hell."