Don Juan is just as irresistible to writers as he is to women: both attractive and repulsive, courageous and honourable, yet entirely amoral and self-centred. We have all met someone like him, or at least someone who would like to be him. —Peter Gordon
Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of joining Dr. Tammy Ho to see Don Yuan (presented by Aurora Theatre) at the Fringe Club alongside some undergraduate students with whom I got acquainted in the course “Modern Drama”, also taught by Dr. Ho. Before I took the course, modern plays were almost totally alien to me. Through attending Dr. Ho’s lectures, however, I learnt how to analyse and interpret various aspects of plays such as Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie and Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming. This time, invited by Dr. Ho, I seized the chance of appreciating another fun and intriguing play – Don Yuan, written by Peter Gordon and directed by Nicole Garbellini .
Adapted from the historically renowned Spanish story of Don Juan (or the Italian equivalent, Don Giovanni), Gordon’s play centres around Don Yuan, the male protagonist and libertine, who seduces young women using his wealth and charm. His life is later threatened by an accident, in which he kills the father of Anna, a woman he has seduced. Later suffering from either a guilty conscience or hallucinations, he is forced into hell by the spirit of Anna’s father.
There have been numerous works, some of them very famous, deriving from the Don Juan myth, including Charles Baudelaire’s poem “Don Juan aux enfers” ( “Don Juan in Hell”) and Byron’s Don Juan. Gordon’s version, however, differs from previous variations with the addition of several Asian elements. For instance, the stage is set around the university campus where Donald Yuan (his friends call him Don) leads his opulent life with women. Don Yuan himself is portrayed as a Chinese student while Anna’s father is a Chinese soldier/official. The Asian flavour grows particularly strong when the infuriated father rebukes Don Yuan in Mandarin for seducing his daughter. The play also underscores the Asian notion of the eighteen levels of hell, where a person will be taken if s/he is deemed sinful.
In terms of narrative method, the audience is first introduced to the origin of Don Juan through the first act, in which a lecturer gives lectures to students about the myth. Then, the play employs a flashback during which respective scenes take place in the court where Anna sues Don Yuan for murdering her father. Under the interrogation of the lawyer, Don Yuan retells how he seduced the women he has encountered.
The lighting indicated the storyline clearly and never confused the spectators. The two Tango dance performances in-between the scenes were fascinating, too. I have never seen such a fabulous dance before. Both the male and female dancers were, as if unifying themselves together with the music, visually appealing and their postures matched perfectly and synchronously with the rhythm. Even a layman like me was bewitched by their graceful movements, let alone Tango aficionados!
Each actor is worth noting, but standouts include Alan Chang (Don Yuan) and Jen Lok (Anna). It seems to me that Chang makes very good use of his facial expressions to show feelings such as self-indulgence, fury and fear. Anna, on the other hand, speaks with varying intonations to express anger and the intention to seek revenge. Both their performances are rich, powerful and create breathtaking moments for the audience.
In summary, it is a nice show and I enjoyed watching it with theatre fans and experts!
James Au was an MALCS (MA in Literary and Comparative Studies) student (2013-2014) at the Department of English. Spending a few years learning Japanese, French and German, he developed his research interest in comparative literature, particularly between East and West. His MA project focused on how European Dada poetry affects Chinese and Japanese poetry. [Click here to read all entries by James.]