Next Stage takes wit to hell with playwright Shaw’s ‘Don Juan’

For the CDTMarch 28, 2014 

  • if you go

    What: Next Stage’s “Don Juan in Hell”

    When: 8 p.m. April 3 (preview); 8 p.m. April 4-5 and 10-12; 3 p.m. April 6 and 13

    Where: State Theatre, 130 W. College Ave., State College

    Info: www.thestatetheatre.org, 272-0606

The Next Stage theater company is branching out.

The group, perhaps best known for its presentations of modern plays, will perform George Bernard Shaw’s “Don Juan in Hell” starting April 3 at the State Theatre.

“Don Juan in Hell” is the third act of Shaw’s “Man and Superman” but has come to be known as its own performance. The characters in “Man and Superman” become characters in the legend of Don Juan, who is condemned to hell by the man he killed in a duel.

“We like plays that stimulate the brain as well as entertain it,” artistic director Mary Skees said. “We were looking for a big name, classic author, and there was Shaw.”

Written in 1903, “Man and Superman” explores questions of humanity and survival, themes that are still relevant, if not more amplified, today.

“Every time I pick up the newspaper, I see something from science or sociology or science about how society is evolving and how morality is evolving. Those things were on Shaw’s mind in 1903, too,” artistic director J.D. Shucter said.

Skees and Shuchter saw “Don Juan in Hell” performed as a reading and thought it would be a better fit as a performed play. Shuchter said it is a good match for the Next Stage’s style.

“It fits our preference for small cast, single set and relatively simple physical production,” Shucter said. “It was done in the ’30s as a reading by Hollywood stars and that became famous and set the tradition to do it that way. We have seen it done that way and, frankly, it loses a lot.”

The play will be directed by Susan Riddeford Shedd, who also directed the company’s productions of “Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast” and Lanford Wilson’s Pulitzer play “Talley’s Folly.” It features Sebastian Arroyo as Don Juan, Leah Mueller as Anna, Mike Waldhier as Anna’s father and Lloyd Shore as the devil. The cast is a mix of theater veterans and actors who have been trained through the Next Stage acting program.

“We did give the actors some background on Shaw’s thoughts and the influences that he had when he wrote this in 1903,” Skees said. “We are making sure they understand every word in it.”

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