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Don Juan in Hell Inside literary lion G.B. Shaw's philosophical comedy Man and Superman (1903) stands a dream scene like no other. Known as Don Juan in Hell (officially Act III, sc. II), it lasts about an hour and a half and is a complicated intellectual debate between Don Juan (James Walter), the Devil (John Kaiser), Juan's former paramour Dona Ana (Lisa Schofield) and her father the Commander (H. Brandon del Castillo), slain by Juan while defending his daughter's honor. The lengthy scene can stand alone and is usually cut from the full-length production or presented as a concert reading, as is given by Houston's newest theater company, Edge Theatre. (Edge's artistic director and director of its Houston premiere is Jim Tommaney, who also writes about theater for the Press.) Much enthralled by German philosopher Nietzsche's theories of the Superman, Shaw inverted the German's lofty moralizing into a condemnation of English hypocrisy, using his patented linguistic flair and biting wit to make his thrusts. Shaw loved causing a stir. So: immortal lover Don Juan is a prig; Hell is full of art and love, not death and torture; and Heaven, dour and sterile, is filled with thinkers, not doers. All points of view get equal weight. This is a play to really listen to – to enjoy, in part, for the very sound of it. Sitting at music stands with scripts, the cast handles Shaw's curlicue logic, tempered prose and stylish cleverness with moderate success. Kaiser and Schofield, old pros that they are, juggle Shaw with a jaunty air, creating characters where not many hints exist. Kaiser is clearly enjoying himself, employing an attitude of immense devil-may-care; Schofield sculpts Ana, whose piety on earth shouldn't place her in Hell, into a late-blooming Life Force, where biology trumps intellect. Dark and handsome, Walter is picture-perfect as libertine Juan; while at times Shaw's convoluted prose gets away from him, he sails nimbly through his aria about the denizens of Hell (i.e., Britain) not being what they seem. The Commander is a statue come to life, and Castillo, sitting ramrod straight, blusters through the role without much finesse. A rarity among Shaw's performed works, this Don Juan in Hell, though not the most heavenly, is filled with enough Shaw deviltry to make it a must-see. No Shaw at all would be Hell, indeed. Through August 6. Midtown Art Center, 3414 LaBranch, 832-894-1843. – DLG

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