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Theatre Review (LA): Don Juan Dispenso by Tony Tanner at The Missing Piece Theatre

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Don Juan, the heartless seducer, has been with us for a long time. First recounted by Spanish playwright Tirso de Molina in 1625, the character has gone on to be the main focus of works by Mozart, Shaw, Moliere, and Lord Byron. Why has he proven to be as irresistible to writers as he was to so many ladies' lust? He was a lover, a fighter (who loved to fight his rivals), a trickster, a moral coward, and ultimately a pathetic creature, who is dragged to Hell for his sins by a statue of the father of one of his victims.

Now actor, director, and writer Tony Tanner, best known for starring as Littlechap in the movie Stop the world, I Want to Get Off, has come up with a more modern version of the tale. Tanner is a pretty good writer, very literate in fact, sometimes humorous, and determined to give his slant on the legend. His Don Juan Dispenso (meaning absolved) is having its world premiere at a theatre that's new to me, The Missing Piece Theatre.

Tanner sets his tale in the roaring 20s and 30s and takes his Don Juan all over Europe. As in many other versions, he seduces a series of ladies, a randy couple, and their daughter whom he rapes, and is raped himself in jail. The handsome Ahmad Enani, who has an easy charm about him, plays Don Juan. If only he were more of a seducer. When he beds his conquests he looks more like a kid who has gotten an ice cream.

The ladies are all uniformly good. I especially liked the “La Contessa” of Suzanne Hunt. Kevin Scot Allen plays Juan’s faithful valet. Scot Ryden and Debra Harner play the lustful couples who turn the tables on Don Juan.

The events in prison leave Juan a broken man. I didn’t believe the transformation by Mr.. Enani, though he handles the rest of his material quite well. I wished he had gone further, and with more style. Tanner’s script is good but wasn’t fully realized in this production. Nevertheless the writing and many of the performances save the day. I must admit I enjoyed myself. Don Juan Dispenso plays at The Missing Piece Theatre until April 4th.

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