Based on a familiar legend packed with graphic sexual references and written almost entirely in verse, David Ives's play Don Juan in Chicago is a wholly fictionalized, occasionally amusing look at contemporary sexual mores. And if your idea of a rip-roaring good time includes listening to such thigh-slappers as "Do you know what is truly important in the world? Fellatio" and "Listen, sperm bank, the way you've been copulating, you could have populated China by now," you might find the Industrial Arts Theatre's production of Ives's comedy to be funnier than any of the late-night jokes about Bill and Monica's oral arguments.
If, however, you quickly tire of tinny rhymed couplets about yeast infections, condoms and what have lately become potentially impeachable offenses, you might want to avoid this two-and-a-half-hour exercise in eighth-grade humor. The play does have a sensitive, tender scene attached at the end just to remind us all that true love is indeed a good thing, and it's possible that the whole point of Ives's over-the-top smutty slapstick is to force theatergoers to realize that there's far too much gratuitous talk about sex these days. (Or as Ives puts it, "It's come or Kingdom come.") Still, given the seemingly endless debate over family values, as well as the recent wall-to-wall news coverage of the president's peccadilloes, such a revelation is hardly likely to make the earth move under anyone's feet.
That said, director Roger Winn and his cast of energetic actors make a valiant attempt to transform Ives's extended scatological limerick, which is set in both 1599 Spain and present-day Chicago, into an entertaining evening. As the play's central love interest, Dona Elvira, actress Michelle Kaye is both endearing and passionate in her portrayal of the sensuous, strong woman who is determined to win the undying devotion of Don Juan, played by IAT artistic director Phil Luna. Kaye's excellent verse-speaking skills, combined with her commanding stage presence and imaginative character choices, enable her to deliver a bravura performance that often has a steadying effect on the rest of the company's off-the-wall escapades. Luna renders a somewhat endearing portrait of the man who is alternately the world's most misunderstood lover and its most infamous sexual predator. Even though it's clear early on that Don Juan isn't terribly bothered by having to bed a different woman each night in order to secure the Devil's promise of eternal life, Luna never loses sight of his character's nagging quest for greater spiritual fulfillment. As a result, we're permitted a sympathetic, plot-enriching glimpse of a character who is all too often dismissed as an irredeemable cad. Earning some well-deserved guffaws as the nymphomaniac Sandy, local favorite Pamela J. Clifton affectionately stumbles, sputters and mugs her way through one of the comedy's thinner roles. And as the waif-like Zoey, newcomer Molly Gilford is appropriately bland and fawning.
But as the evening wears on past the two-hour mark, you get the feeling that there's not a discernible difference between the quality of Ives's juvenile rantings and, say, a nightclub show in which an inebriated Buddy Hackett reads the juicier parts of Ken Starr's referral. Except for the fact that, in this case, the consequences of the principal players' actions eventually result in a make-believe ending that's relatively happy and harmless.
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Don Juan in Chicago, presented by Industrial Arts Theatre, through October 10 at the Denver Civic Theatre, 721 Santa Fe Drive, 303-595-3821.