Don Juan is up to his old tricks again.
After suavely seducing the women in his native Spain, he’s now gone off to Belgium in search of new conquests in the U.S. premiere of “Stripping Don Juan” at the Gala Hispanic Theatre. Little does he know that an old Spanish flame he once promised to marry — only to leave her heartbroken — has followed him to exact her revenge.
Originally written in the 17th century by Ana Caro, one of the rare women playwrights of Spain’s Golden Age, this is an unusual and funny look at how a female lead character goes to extreme measures — traveling from Seville to Brussels and dressing as a man to gain access to Don Juan’s exclusive inner circle — to strip the cavalier macho man of his dignity, honor and pride.
Playing the dual lead character of Leanor/Don Leonardo (wearing a black jockey-style coat while mimicking men with her deep, fake-manly voice), Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey does a good job of keeping Leonor’s emotions in check, while trying her best to stay in character as “male” Leonardo, a womanizer.
Leonor’s goal is simple: Kill the man who scorned her, or win him back. Along with her servant, Ribete (Luis Simon), she arrives in Brussels as a guest of Don Fernando de Ribera (Carlos Del Valle), who is really her brother, but believes his male guest is his cousin. There, she meets with her target, Don Juan, played to perfection by Mel Rocher, whose thick Sevillian accent, regal purple suede coat and extremely large ego bring one of the world’s great seducers convincingly to life.
In Belgium, Don Juan is already in hot pursuit of the voluptuous Estela (Cynthia Benjamin). He immediately becomes a hero after saving Estela and her cousin Lisarda (Julieta Maroni) from an attack by bandits in the outskirts of Brussels. The city is represented by a beautifully decorated set of lush forest, gloomy clouds and large trees that double as balconies in later scenes of the play.
Don Juan soon gets a taste of his own medicine when Estela loses interest in him and begins flirting with Don Leonardo, who has had to compete for Estela’s attentions with two additional, actual men — Fernando and Prince Ludovico of Pinoy (Timothy Andres Pabon). (Estela picks Leonardo after he woos her with lines like, “Your two eyes like two suns that imperiously display their light amongst lightning bolts and arrows.”)
Later, in the garden, Don Juan and Leonardo prepare for the critical final fight — with switchblades. Fernando learns that Don Juan has dishonored his sister, and loses all respect for his once-trusted friend. Don Juan, scared for his own safety, proclaims he still loves Leonor. Don Leonardo steps away from the fight, goes into the woods, quickly changes clothes, and comes back immediately as — guess who? — Leonor.
Ultimately, the complications are tidily resolved in a happy ending for alI — a fun, if slightly cheesy, way to wrap up a thoroughly enjoyable play.
WHAT: “Stripping Don Juan” (“Valor, agravio y mujer”), a 17th-century comedy by Spanish playwright Ana Caro Mallen de Soto, directed by Hugo Medrano
WHERE: Gala Hispanic Theatre-Tivoli, 3333 14th Street NW (play in Spanish, with English surtitles above and below the stage)
WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, and 4 p.m. Sundays. Through Oct. 22
TICKETS: $20 to $34.
WEB SITE: www.galatheatre.org
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS