Don Juan in Hell | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Don Juan in Hell 

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DON JUAN IN HELL, ShawChicago, at the Storefront Theater, Gallery 37 Center for the Arts. In November ShawChicago revived Man and Superman, and now the troupe brings its formidable powers of persuasion to the 100-minute fantasia that interrupts the third act of George Bernard Shaw's 1905 comedy. Literature's most intellectual dream sequence, Don Juan in Hell is a bravura feast of reason that treats heaven and hell as human proving grounds, distilling Shaw's beliefs about human evolution, the emptiness of conventional morality, and the hollowness of worshiping love and beauty. Using characters from Mozart's Don Giovanni, Shaw contrasts a fashionable, hedonistic hell (which appeals to the sensation-seeking Commander) with a ruthless heaven, governed by the Life Force, that's enlisted in its service Don Juan and his lost love, Doña Ana. The urbane Devil gains one convert but loses two, remaining steadfast himself in his preference for happiness rather than truth.

Shaw's quartet of characters should sound like a chamber ensemble: this delicious meeting of minds sparkles with the give-and-take of balanced, invigorating arguments. Robert Scogin's revival misses that musicality, however, driving home Shaw's dialectic with a ferocity that reduces his playfulness to polemics. Adrianne Cury brings dignity to the much intrigued Ana, Michael McAlister's bluff Commander is a boon companion, and Tony Dobrowolski's suave Devil oozes merry misanthropy. But Terence Gallagher's pile-driving Don Juan delivers all his speeches--and he has many--with forensic overkill.

--Lawrence Bommer

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