(This is Jerry's review of the show from April 2009 when it was presented at The Cultch.)
The Old Trout Puppet Workshop seemingly came out of nowhere a couple of years ago with its Famous Puppet Death Scenes. Well, okay, not nowhere but Calgary. Either way, they were an unknown company out here until that unexpectedly witty show, featuring a variety of styles of puppetry, charmed us to pieces.
The new show, presented by The Cultch at Performance Works, is equally surprising in that it hardly involves puppets at all. Don Juan is a human actor (Peter Balkwill) dressed in commedia garb with a large metallic penis-shaped codpiece, languishing in hell. He narrates and acts out for the audience “the terrible tale of my life so that you may learn to avoid my path,” aided in his task by the hefty Devil (Pityu Kenderes) and two Demonic Minions (Jackson Andrews and Anne Lalancette), who play all the other characters.
Rather than puppets, the characters are human actors in masks. At times their characterizations are wonderful. Andrews and Lalancette are miraculously realistic dogs who sniff out Don Juan and raise him in their pack when he’s abandoned as a baby. One of Don Juan’s lovers is a woman composed of all three of the other actors, a mask, two porcelain arms, two porcelain legs, and two plastic boobs, all moving in admirable synchronization. Some of the dramatic devices are effective and/or amusing, the best of them a terrific oral sex scene. There’s also a very nice serious moment when Don Juan explains the desperation of his chronic lovemaking as an attempt to escape intense loneliness, and some good laughs as, for example, when putti atop the set start to sing. I admired the cleverness of much of the work and the performers’ technique. But in the end I didn’t know whether it was meant to be taken seriously or as an extended joke.
Cimmeron Meyer’s set is an impressive suite of four movable wooden towers that have a classical look. The actors spend a lot of time wheeling them around in different relationships and rotating them to reveal different facades, but the primary effect is to take up more time. Meyer’s moody lighting works nicely.
But oh lord this show moves slowly. Even at only 80 minutes it feels long. Director Vanessa Porteous drags out every sequence as if it were some profound spiritual epiphany, underlined by recorded classical music and the sounds of a chamber choir. Eros and anguish can make a heady mix. But you’ve got to pick up the pace.