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In Arts & Entertainment Reviews

Don Juan takes his final leave of his former lover, Dona Ana, in Boulevard Theatre's "Don Juan in Hell." (PHOTO: Troy Freund)

Boulevard's "Don Juan in Hell" finds richness in minimalism

The words of the English language in all its glory are the tools that George Bernard Shaw used over and over and over to create "Don Juan in Hell."

So it's surprising that the most moving and spine-tingling moment of the production that is now at the tiny Boulevard Theatre was a moment that played without any words.

With just the tinkle of some soft piano in the background, Marian Araujo let her dark chocolate eyes speak a million sparkling words as she gently drops the hand of her Don Juan, who is about to leave her in hell as he heads to heaven.

Araujo, who plays the confusing Dona Ana, is beautiful, sure, but it is so much more than her beauty that draws us in to this private and very personal conversation. It's the depth of her eyes, the blush of her lashes and the slight dip in the corners of her red lips.

I found I was holding my breath waiting to see if he would leave her there, and even though I've seen this play three times before, I finally let my breath out as I tried to figure out how I could go rescue her.

"Don Juan in Hell" was written by Shaw as the third act of "Man and Superman," and like most of his writing, the play is a debate about men and women, love and hate, heaven and hell, good and bad, evil and joy.

Mark Bucher and David Flores, who co-directed this production, crafted an inventive evening of words. The play is a staged reading. Actors read their lines. But they also act. Boy, do they act.

There are no sets. No costumes. No props. There are actors, musicians and words. Lots and lots of words. You really have to pay attention, but if you do, the rewards are immense.

It's kind of like going to your first poetry class as a freshman in high school. Bored out of your mind, but once you decide to pay attention you discover Robert Frost and "The Road Not Taken."

That's the kind of joy you get out of listening carefully to this work of art.

Dominating the entire proceeding is Don Juan, played with immense affection by Jason Will. He shows us man in all of his wonder and all of his weaknesses.

Will looks and carries himself like a Wisconsin version of Javier Bardem. He's handsome and has a nimble seductive and rumbling voice that gives everything he says deep and untroubled meaning.

His flirtation with Donna Ana, played first as a 77-year-old by Mary Buchel and then as a 27-year-old siren by Araujo, shows him a real man's man.

He argues for a heaven where discussion and activity all have meaning and weight. And he argues that hell is nothing more than passing superficial entertainment

In an impassioned and detailed speech, Don Juan dismisses the temptations and shallowness of hell.

"In this Palace of Lies ... Your friends are the dullest dogs I know. They are not beautiful; they are only decorated. They are not dignified; they are only fashionably dressed. They are not moral; they are only conventional. They are not virtuous; they are only cowardly. They are not prosperous; they are only rich."

This is Shaw at his best, being outraged at those who pretend to be upper class and so far above the toiling masses.

Bucher does a turn as Dona Ana's father and he's got the righteous bluster that provides a marked contrast to the controlled passion of Don Juan.

Ellie Quint, a long-time Milwaukee singer and pianist Donna Kummer nicely blend some Noel Coward songs into the performance, both supporting and explaining the characters.

"Don Juan in Hell" runs weekends through Dec. 2.


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