Review: Dom Juan (Théâtre Français de Toronto)

Théâtre Français de Toronto’s Dom Juan is a funny, accessible take on Moliere’s classic play

I find that classical theatre can sometimes be difficult to understand. There are often unfamiliar situations depicted with flowery, archaic language. Théâtre Français de Toronto’s production of Molière‘s Dom Juan (on stage at Berkeley Street Theatre), however, is an accessible take on a classic of the French repertoire. Director Joël Beddow makes this old-fashioned tale of transgression engaging and relevant.

The title character of Dom Juan, is a mythic figure, the symbol of sexual liberty and appetite without morals or restraints. Molière’s play, first performed in 1665, tells the story of the last days of Dom Juan’s life. Dom Juan is a young nobleman, a libertine, and an atheist.

Followed by his faithful servant, Sganarelle, he seduces multiple women, is pursued by members of their families, chastised by his father, and threatened by the ghost of a man he has recently killed. Several of the characters plead with him repeatedly to repent his evil ways. But he remains adamantly amoral until the end.

The production is set in modern times, without specifying a specific period or location. Sganarelle wears jeans, Converse sneakers, and a long-sleeved t-shirt with the words “Best Man” on the front. Dom Juan wears an open-collared white dress shirt and an undone tuxedo bow tie. But there are also references to the original Renaissance setting of the play. Dom Juan’s father wears breeches and a frock coat with ruffled sleeves.

Beddow’s production is stylish and beautiful to look at. The set is quite spare. The action takes place on a raised wooden platform. When not center stage, the actors remain in view off to the sides as they change costumes and wait for their next entrance. A velvet curtain hangs diagonally across the exposed brick wall of the theatre. Three tall rectangular boxes with two mirrored sides and two open sides stand in the middle of the stage. They are moved around, stood on end or laid on their sides throughout the performance. Sometimes they serve as a long table. Sometimes they work as a kaleidoscope, reflecting and refracting the actors and the lights. The effect is quite magical

On the night I saw the play (and at every Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday performance), English surtitles were projected on a screen above center stage. My one complaint was that I found it hard to read the surtitles and watch the action at the same time. My French is pretty good, but I was afraid I’d miss an important part of the dialogue if I looked down for too long.

I didn’t want to miss any of the acting either because the performances were strong across the board. Pierre Simpson’s Dom Juan was compelling – an elegant and suave seducer who could talk anyone into anything and talk himself out of any sticky situation. My companion, who speaks no French, said he understood the character perfectly, even without looking at the surtitles. Marcelo Arroyo, as Sganarelle, alternated between bemused fascination with his master and fear and disgust.

My favourite scene featured Nicolas Van Burek and Sophie Goulet as Pierrot and his sweetheart Charlotte, two country bumpkins. Their affectionate banter, delivered in broad rustic vernacular, had me laughing out loud. When Dom Juan arrives and persuades Charlotte to marry him, only to be interrupted by another of his conquests, Mathurine (played by Lina Blais), the scene devolves into raucous chaos.

As an anglophone in Toronto, I think it can be easy to forget that French is such an important part of Canadian culture. We are fortunate to have Théâtre Français de Toronto here, making French theatre available to francophones and anglophones alike. Dom Juan is a fun way to expand your theatrical experience. It definitely made me want to see more.

Details:

  • Dom Juan is playing at the Berkeley Street Theatre – Upstairs (26 Berkeley Street) until May 28, 2017
  • Performances are Wednesday-Saturday at 8pm, with matinees Saturdays at 3:30pm and Sundays at 2:30pm.
  • The play is performed in French. There are English surtitles at the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday performances.
  • Tickets are $19-$49. Wednesdays and Thursdays are Pay What You Can. Saturday Rush tickets are $20.
  • Tickets are available online or by calling 416-534-6604

Photo of Pierre Simpson and Marcelo Arroyo provided by the company

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