If you are interested in a staged reading play about a debate on the human condition, make a beaten path to the Eclectic Company Theatre's production of George Bernard Shaw's "Don Juan in Hell" running through May 15th on Laurel Canyon Boulevard in Valley Village.
This play is a dream sequence that depicts an impassioned philosophical debate between Don Juan, the devil, one of Juan's female conquests (Ana) and the Statue (a soldier).
The 90 minute one-act play does not have an intermission.
It concerns the nature of mankind and the potential future of the human race.
Touching on many subjects we discuss, debate and dismantle today, this "concert" version staged reading of what was originally the third act in Shaw's play "Man and Superman," delivers boldly and brilliantly.
David Pinion as the Devil
Never does it stray from the script, and, indeed, gives us, the audience, an opening few minutes that work as an introduction to the sacred language to come.
Exchanging words on topics ranging from love to death and religion to marriage, the playwright presents Juan as a master philosopher, statesman and politician interested in improving the state of the human species while painting the devil as a bully who believes that man is cruel, warlike and incapable of change.
Juan, on the other hand, says that it is mankind's intellect that will save him, and that the life force behind this evolution is woman.
In its flow, vibrancy and grasp of philosophical and literary components, this "Don Juan" simply soars.
It understands and captures the imagination, motivation and beauty behind Shaw's words.
Indeed, this production could have mired itself in the stillness and stolidity of most staged readings. Instead it combines movement and creativity to give us a firm, flowing and flamboyant play that stops just short of the action in a full length production.
If truth be told, this production brilliantly and deftly shares Juan's ideas, beliefs, and principals with the audience in an engaging, eclectic and engrossing manner that humanizes the words and language.
Juan, the philosopher king, does not turn to religion, medication, drug, or system to find the root of his problems, and the solution to them, but trusts solely in his own mind, nature and intellect.
And, oh, what an intellect it is.
Ripe with comparisons, conundrums and convictions, Juan displays perhaps the most thorough and accomplished mind ever penned on papyrus.
It is certainly difficult to debate against him, yet quite a pleasure and challenge to try.
In allowing him to, in more or less certain terms, emerge victorious, or at least, most reasonable and logical, Shaw is allowing us to believe that we can reach the heights of Juan's intellectual glory.
Holly Witham's direction adds clarity and supple detail to that premise and the proceedings that follow.
She allows the actors the chance to traverse their own paths of least resistance while giving the play a wildly popular sense of humor which only adds to the rawness, power and electricity of this master work.
Judging by the laughter of the audience on the first Saturday of the run on which this critic saw this piece, the comedy emerges from a truth and honesty that Witham infuses the production and its four actors with.
In the end, the direction here equals the exquisite nature of this staged reading skillfully turned play. Witham assembles a deeply gifted cast which understands the morals and morays populating Shaw's work like motorboats on Lake Michigan. The chemistry between the actors is also teaming with promise.
The lone standout is Jonathan Medina (Don Juan) who gives a passionate, wise and tranquil performance which could have gone above the audience's heads and sensibilities, but is instead kept in perfect balance by the talented Medina. His turn is, indeed, convincing and confident, but not calculating.
The television actor ("Shameless," "Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders") exhibits a strong stage presence and the ability to not only comprehend the material, but master it.
Medina is the lynch pin that the play and rest of the actors depend on. He does not disappoint, and like an anchor makes himself available to the other characters emotionally and intellectually during the presentation.
Could his Don Juan be the Superman Shaw continues writing about?
This critic would very much like to see Medina on the stages of Valley Village or Los Angeles again soon.
Furthering the message of the play are: Adrienne Pearson's technical direction and Natasha Troop's lighting design.
All in all, "Don Juan in Hell" succeeds because of its important, intelligent and insightful content, not despite it.
This production, especially, opens its heart and soul to the more-than-abundant substance and style that Shaw pierced our consciences with more than 110 years ago.
Yet in this season of passionate and often poisonous political debates, this play makes it clear that time is merely a figment of our everyday posing, positioning and prowling.
Just about all of the subjects, syllables and syntaxes that Shaw expressed over a century ago are still relevant today, maybe more so.
That is a sign of not only play writing at its most transcendent and translucent, but thinking at its most auspicious and painstaking.
The choice of this play is also a sign that all is well on Laurel Canyon Boulevard.
The Eclectic Company Theatre continues to produce enthralling, enlightening and educating theatre that inspires not only Valley Village, but the San Fernando Valley and all of Los Angeles, for that matter.
The theatre boasts an up-and-coming ensemble that is sure to make a name for itself if it has not done so already.
This "Don Juan," then, is a no-holds-barred, in-your-face, like-it-or-leave-it expression of reality through the transparent windows of art, even if they are in hell.
May we all learn a thing or two about not only the universe, but ourselves through its proud, poignant and profound eyes.
If only we could all see so clearly. If only other theatre companies had the courage to produce this staggering testament to mankind's glory and folly.
Kudos to the Eclectic for its wise choice and precise execution.
May there be many more to come.
By Radomir Vojtech Luza Theatre Critic
Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 2 p.m.
Information & Admission: (626) 303-4222
Where: The Eclectic Company Theatre
5312 Laurel Canyon Boulevard,
Valley Village, CA 91607