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Coeurage Theatre’s Lelliott on Don Juan in Hell – in Noho

April 25, 2010

Fernando Ramirez is Don Juan

Jeremy Lelliott knows the 210 Freeway. And the commute between North Hollywood and the Lewis Family Playhouse’s Main Stage in Rancho Cucamonga gives him ample time to mentally craft Don Juan in Hell.

Lelliott currently performs the role of Jim Hawkins in Treasure Island with five other male actors. “I wouldn’t mind just a little more estrogen around there,” he bemoans. You can cut the testosterone with a knife. “And some of these guys are pure pirate.”

We sit on the drizzly patio outside Elements Kitchen next to the Pasadena Playhouse (remember when it used to be the other way around?) to talk about Don Juan in Hell, which Lelliott directs.

Why Don Juan in Hell? “I wanted Coeurage to do a [George Bernard] Shaw piece between Head Over Heels and Measure for Measure. Something between the contemporary and classic. I fell in love with the play in school.” Like other Coeurage Theatre members, Lelliott graduated Cal State Fullerton. “The play, which is rarely performed, has dozens of gems of wisdom.

“An example is, when someone dies, we generally mourn. But in many cases, a part of us is quietly relieved the person has passed. Not always, of course, but it’s a common response.”

We talked about this notion and agreed that, there are times, when the death of someone who long has been infirm, battled cancer, Alzheimer’s, etc., is better off having passed. And so is the family. A burden lifts, whether we care to admit it or not.

Devin Simonson

“That’s just one example,” Lelliott says. His voice trails off a bit as he says, “Maybe there’s something masochistic in me that wanted to mount it.”

The play is the rarely performed, and lesser known, third act of Shaw’s Man and Superman, written in 1903. “It has just a few central characters: The Devil or Lucifer (Devon Simonson); the father figure or the Statue (Peter Weidman); the Religious character, Doña Ana (Sammi Smith); and, of course Don Juan. I think most of us root against Don Juan,” Lelliott says.

Sammi Smith

“But the play gives us four perspectives to choose from. I like Lucifer because he supports the Arts. The Statue is a militaristic guy, very black and white. Ana is played by Sammi Smith. The piece is not nice to women, but we tried to comment on that. The play begins when Don Juan and the Statue enter Hell.”

Fernando Ramirez plays Don Juan. He went to his native Columbia for a month during the early days of rehearsal, which extended the preparation period, Lelliott says. “Fernando, thankfully, was off book when he came back, which really helped move this along.”

Having a quick mind is central to Don Juan’s core beliefs. “He’s of the opinion that the brain is more important than all else – more important than art, religion, politics, beauty. Man is trying to become a god, or Superman if you will, so he should not think about women.”

So much for the next generation of gods.

Peter Weidman

Lelliott’s direction includes a fifth character, a stage manager (Ric Perez-Selsky; also assistant director), who takes on a narrator’s role fairly early in the play. “He’s there to clear a few things up,” Lelliott says. “Otherwise, it’s easy to get lost in this absurdist play.”

Don Juan in Hell runs April 30 – May 16, Fridays & Saturdays 8pm, Sundays 2pm, at NoHo London Music Hall, 10620 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. Ticket prices, as always: PAY WHAT YOU WANT.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Barry Starke permalink
    May 28, 2010 12:24 pm

    Our church is planning on doing the Don Juan in Hell with a few updates in it. I called the Ontario Shaw festival and according to Jerry X2202 the Gutenberg project records the work as public domain. Is this true? With the updates (Putting it in present day America) I want to make sure we don’t get into any copyright snags. We are putting this on as a charity event to raise money for the Chaplains Discretionary Fund so we will only be asking for donations which I understand your company did as well. I would love to talk to someone about your production as I am directing it and would appreciate any insights or suggestions you may have.

    God Bless and Anon

    Barry

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