Thursday, April 17, 2014

Don Juan: Marionette


Don Juan or the Wages of Debauchery
by Vit Horejs
produced by The Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre

Don Juan or the Wages of Debauchery is an adaptation of the Don Juan myth by The Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre. The company produced it recently with beautiful, superbly painted puppets designed by Jakub “Kuba” Krejci. They have exquisite, detailed costumes by Michelle Beshaw. They range from a few inches high to one or two feet.

The master of the puppet company is Vit Horejs, a Czech puppeteer who wrote the adaptation, directed the show, and “plays” the puppet role of Don Juan. Horejs’ work springs from traditional Czech puppetry, but he’s developed the form into something more complex and contemporary.

Horejs is joined by four other puppeteers. The puppet stage is the traditional clothed platform with a series of backdrops. The puppeteers, in costume, are seen above backdrops. They’re acting from the waist up – or shoulders up – their faces expressing the characters. At one point, one is standing next to the platform, manipulating the puppet directly with his hands. At another, the puppeteer takes the Don Juan puppet into the audience. And so we’re treated to multiple realities, like some of the best avant-garde.

Usually, the marionettes are controlled by a metal rod through the head, by which the puppeteer can actually make the marionette move one leg at a time.

Don Juan’s servant here is named Kasparek – not Sganerelle as in Moliere’s Don Juan or Leporello as in Don Giovanni. It’s the name of a Czech folk character appearing in any number of tales. The adaptation focusses on this character as much as on Don Juan.

Kasparek speaks in harsh New York accent. It’s clever, but the harshness becomes annoying after a while. The character, of course, is quick-witted. His dialogue is enormously creative, including alliteration, colloquialisms, modern allusions, and veiled or near obscenities (“We’re in deep sh– trouble”). Horejs deftly keeps the show suitable for children while also entertaining the adults.

Don Juan’s pursuit of Donna Anna is kept at a farcical level. His onstage murder of her father has the distance that all puppetry has, making it acceptable for a younger audience. But in this adaptation of the myth Don Juan kills his own father as well. He does it offstage, and we hear about it only briefly, but is this embellishment really appropriate for the piece?

The Marionette Theatre keeps us engrossed in the puppets as if they were actual actors. Don Juan or the Wages of Debauchery is too long (the first half is too wordy). But still it’s superb and a welcome piece of 
New York’s theater. We want to see a production from Vit Horejs and his company every year.

Steve Capra
April 2014