by John Stoehr
I'm mindful of overselling this, but in terms of getting your money's worth, Don John is a no-brainer. Its pacing is brisk, the action is ever-present, and all the bodies on stage seem to writhe with desire seeking release.
Most striking is its moodiness. It's set in industrial England in the late 1970s. The economy is in the crapper. Everyone who has a job is on strike. Meanwhile, Thatcher is poised to take over parliamentary leadership, but she's not quite there yet. While everyone is waiting for a Big Change to happen, nothing happens. There's no work, no money, and seemingly no future.
Perfect for a lad named Don John, whose reason for existing is elegant and singular. It's the nookie. He's really an animal and I don't just mean that in the cutesy sense. Women are seduced by his scent. As if they themselves were animals. Even sex, the one thing that would seem to affirm our humanity, is drained of humanity. It's movement without soul, desire without care, hunger without end.
Gisli Orn Gardarsson is terrific but his character would be nothing without the women around him, who prove to more courageous than any man can be in this play. And by the way, there's lots of broad humor here, too. Allan, a self-described "simple man" who just wants to be man enough for the lovely Zerlina, electrocutes himself and then flies into a manic break-dancing sequence. Then he does it all over again. Very funny and a nice counterbalance to the play's darker undertones. -JS