Capsule Stage Reviews: Don Giovanni, Dr. Faustus, Freud's Last Session, The Good Thief, The Meeting, Into the Woods

Don Giovanni Over the years I've seen many productions of W.A. Mozart and Lorenzo Da Ponte's eternal masterpiece Don Giovanni, but never one with so much sass and sexy charm as Opera in the Heights's. The young cast captures the work's comedic drama and shakes it vigorously. Maestro Enrique Carreón-Robledo and his very fine orchestra, sounding better than ever, rush headlong into the sublime score, beautifully balancing hellish fury, heartbreaking tenderness and the sinuous, wayward ways of the profligate title character. (A special nod of thanks to harpsichordist Teruhiko Toda, who plays the continuo part as if singing himself.) If you've never seen Don Giovanni onstage, this is the production to see. Rising opera director Stephanie Havey gives the tale of the fabled debauched Spaniard an invigorating makeover, updating the action to the '50s. The program notes say it's the '60s, but it's definitely the era of early Rat Pack, Balenciaga-like couture, and rebels without a cause. I question a few of her choices. No matter how twisted the logic between "what is hidden and what is seen," surreal artist René Magritte is an odd visual metaphor for the world's greatest womanizer, and the elegant, prim Donna Anna would never, ever — I repeat, never — dance some hootchy-kootchy number and act all wild and crazy before her seduction by Giovanni in the first scene. She is a lady and would never party down in public. It's completely against her grain. The most surprising update, thoroughly right and constantly entertaining, is the libretto, marvelously re-translated here into period slang. Catchy and breezy, "Time to party" and "Do I Hear a Rat" are entirely apt for this classic tale. Master wordsmith Da Ponte would heartily approve of this new buzz. (I'm guessing that director Havey is the author of the surtitles, but no credit is given in the program.) Giovanni is opera's ultimate bad boy. An unrepentant seducer, he loves 'em and leaves 'em, an equal-opportunity male chauvinist pig. He has no redeeming social value other than the uncanny ability to get women into bed. Yet we grudgingly admire his nerve, suave technique, and unquenchable, unstoppable libido. There's no one in the world of opera like this sparky, spiky man about town. One tantalizing musical phrase, one mandolin solo, one little touch is all he needs to conquer anyone. In a brilliant flourish during the famous "Catalog Aria," his servant Leporello (bass/baritone Justin Hopkins in a standout performance) lists all the hundreds of his master's conquests — young, old, blond, redhead, rich, poor, fat, thin — while he pulls out one Rolodex after another, flipping through the numerous card entries until they blur. Baritone Brian K. Major, as Giovanni, is one smooth operator, in action and voice. While not as outwardly sexy as some more recent "barihunks" who've sung the role, he easily compensates with a commanding voice that's agile and very easy on the ear. In his pseudo-pimp outfit of fur-trimmed car coat, under which is his concealed handgun, he cuts a dangerous figure. Major's Italian diction, like all the others, is crystal clear. Rachel Smith's set design is simple and effective — a series of scrim panels that open like screen doors anchor a double flight of stairs. You don't need much when Mozart supplies all the atmosphere. Jim Elliott's lighting was best by far, imbuing each scene with just enough hint of moonlight or lamplight. Dena Scheh's costumes were a vintage wonderland of bowler hats, party gowns and biker chic. Don Giovanni is one of the musical wonders of the world. It never gets old. OH's youthful update keeps the lovable rake alive and kicking. Treat yourself to his adventures. You may not repent, but you'll be changed for the better. February 6, 7, 8 and 9. 1703 Heights, 713-861-5303. — DLG

Dr. Faustus What a thoroughly bewitching production this is. The magicians at Classical Theatre have outdone themselves in bringing to life this rare Elizabethan gem from Christopher Marlowe. Everything about it works, from the antique English dance band tunes which set the tone, to the imaginative, awesome theatricality that gives the play sweep and power. If you're under the impression that a creaky, arcane drama from the days of yore might be a yawn fest, this show will mightily convince otherwise. With an intelligent adaptation by Timothy N. Evers that shrewdly edits great Marlowe down to more modest size — a few subsidiary characters are excised, without doing overall damage — director Philip Hays and his team of sorcerers conjure up an enchanted evening in the theater not to be missed. In case you're unfamiliar with this play, you're certainly familiar with its universal plot: proud Dr. Faustus makes a bargain with the devil, selling his soul for 24 years of unalloyed pleasure. Needless to say, his adventures bring him momentary gain but no lasting happiness. At the end, no surprise here, he is dragged kicking and screaming into hell. Adam Gibbs and James Belcher anchor the play and are magnificent as smart-ass Faustus and a wily, seen-it-all, been-there Mephistopheles. At one point, they both do a little softshoe, a neat vaudeville turn that says everything you need to know about the seductions yet to come and how easy it is to be tempted. Dain Geist and Johanna Hubbard play the good and bad angels (and other roles, like the Pope and Helen of Troy) who try to convince him to go straight or prompt him to be more devilish. Throughout, the poetry is crystal clear and made manifest in the leads' stirring performances. Ryan McGettigan's atmospheric design of raked floorboards, a carnival's dangling electric lights and those cabinets of wonders — out of which all manner of hellishness appears — is its own wonder to behold. Matt Schlief's lighting is mesmerizing, Macy Perrone's costumes beguile, the masks by The Maskery & Pirate Mask Workshop are a treat (the bejeweled face of Helen of Troy is an inspired touch), and Justin Dunford's puppet design (the Seven Deadly Sins) is quite captivating. Turning Faustus into English music hall transforms Marlowe's stuffiness by making it smoothly palatable and more relevant, while adding a sweet layer of contemporary irony. Man, says Marlowe, must forever battle pride, gluttony, lust, et al., but if you give yourself to the dark side, well, then, you get what you bargained for. In its scintillating production, Classical Theatre Co. makes going to Hell an absolute pleasure. Through February 16. The Barn, 2201 Preston, 713-963-9665. — DLG

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
D.L. Groover has contributed to countless reputable publications including the Houston Press since 2003. His theater criticism has earned him a national award from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia (AAN) as well as three statewide Lone Star Press Awards for the same. He's co-author of the irreverent appreciation, Skeletons from the Opera Closet (St. Martin's Press), now in its fourth printing.
Contact: D. L. Groover