note: entire contents copyright 2007 by Carl A. Rossi
Don Juan … Robert Milli
Dona Ana … Barbara Andres
The Statue … Jim Petosa
The Devil … Philip Bosco
A reading of George Bernard Shaw’s DON JUAN IN HELL was given by Boston University’s theatre department to benefit its Sir Rex Harrison Scholarship and Production Enhancement Funds; this celebrated dream is dreamt in Act Three of MAN AND SUPERMAN where a sardonic but winking Devil and three characters from Mozart’s DON GIOVANNI debate over a dull Heaven versus a pleasurable Hell, Woman pursing Man in the battle of the sexes, the Life Force and the coming of the Superman (in Nietzschean, not comic book, terms). Within the play’s context, the dream reflects on what has preceded it; on its own, it is an abstract debate; thus, DON JUAN IN HELL works better in concert than in production and the most acclaimed readings remain those of the First Drama Quartette in the 1950s with Charles Boyer as Don Juan, Charles Laughton as The Devil, Cedric Hardwicke as The Statue and Agnes Moorehead as Dona Ana, though should you listen to the Quartett’s recording, you might agree that Ms. Moorehead is too arch and that Mr. Boyer unintentionally turns Hell into the Casbah.
The B. U. reading was also a black-tie affair (though the Devil wore a scarlet one) and its own quartet declaimed behind formidable wooden lecterns: as the Statue, Jim Petosa, Director of the School, oozed oil over Mr. Shaw’s radiance and barnstormed to the students in the audience; Barbara Andres’ maternal but still womanly Dona Ana became all the more alluring the more and more she dithered though some of that dithering came dangerously close to out-and-out mugging. I wish I had seen Philip Bosco in his prime rather than been introduced to him via his Devil, so lightweight that you could blow him away like thistledown, and his instrument was either victim to laryngitis or has simply dried out. (If a recording were made of this reading, Ms. Andres would be properly placed, Mr. Petosa would be demanding center stage and Mr. Bosco would drift in and out from the sidelines.) I only know Robert Milli from the fact that he played Horatio to Richard Burton’s Hamlet over forty years ago and though he is now a snow-white lion, Mr. Milli remains a dashing young man and hopefully his effortless declamation proved the truer focus to said students; in Mr. Milli’s hands --- voice, really --- Mr. Shaw’s monologues remained silken and clear even in their weightiest moments and the baritone virility of Mr. Milli’s sound spun out its own seduction. A paradox: the more this Don Juan talked, the sexier he, too, became, which in turn lent the proper frustration to the character: for all this Don’s protestations and Mr. Milli’s decorum, neither could help being irresistible.