Whenever you've got tickets to a play with the word "project" in the title, you can pretty much bet you're in for an evening of the playwright's unrelenting agenda, and Joel Beers' The Don Juan Project is no exception. Directed by Patrick Gwaltney and playing at Fullerton's Stages Theatre, the play's protagonist is the legendary Don Juan (Bradley A. Whitfield), whose anti-establishment, seductive ways are on the verge of extermination. In order to save his legend and himself from "the abyss" where forgettable figures like Humpty Dumpty go to die, Don Juan sets off on a quest to find a human who authentically embodies his fierce, sincere passion for life and the ladies.
It's not exactly a storefront-theater coup that Beers' play clamps down on the captive audience's jugular and firmly shakes all close-mindedness and prescribed social assumptions from its consciousness. After all, Beers—himself one of the county's staple theater critics and progressive-minded barkeeps—makes his living passionately pushing his handful of agendas via any available outlet.
What is a significant achievement, though, is how excellently Beers' case-making modus operandi morphs into a meaningful, almost mournful look at how legends like Don Juan's are being replaced by cheap, commodified substitutes (like the hypnotic jewelry store jingles, say, that convince men that women want shiny baubles in lieu of sincere emotional availability). Those substitutes, meanwhile, leave a hole in our souls even larger than the one myths like Don Juan's were originally trying to fill—stop it!—or at the very least explain. Despite, or even because of, the show's philosophical success, Stages' production of The Don Juan Project comes off as a play that is bigger than its players, with the ensemble struggling to articulate the wordy script and keep their direct addresses to the audience fresh. Beers has done well in turning his worthy agendas into viable works of art, but next time he should ensure he's handing them over to a team better prepared to tackle them.
THE DON JUAN PROJECT AT STAGES THEATRE, 400 E. COMMONWEALTH AVE., FULLERTON, (714) 525-4484. FRI.-SAT., 8 P.M; SUN., 4 P.M. THROUGH MAY 27. $16.
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