If Austro-Hungarian playwright Ödön von Horváth is remembered at all, it's because of the brutal, and brutally funny, circumstances of his death. After being chased out of Berlin because of the Nazis, then chased from Vienna, von Horváth died in Paris under a tree in a thunderstorm, killed by a falling branch.
He's definitely not remembered for his play Don Juan Comes Back From the War. This 1936 potboiler imagines Don Juan as a German solider returning to the rubble and nihilism of post-World War I Berlin. A life-threatening wound sets him on a path to find ... love? Expiation? Redemption?
Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theater presents a new version by British playwright Duncan Macmillan. But, to tell you the truth, unless Macmillan gets crushed by a branch, this version will probably have less of a shelf life than the original.
And that's not because Macmillan's version is anything less than strong, with great flashes of theatricality. It's because the play starts out grimy and bleak, ends grimy and bleak, and in between there's some grimy bleakness. It's less a journey than a pit stop at an outpatient clinic. Macmillan — or possibly director Alan Stanford — attempts to jazz it up with flashes of nudity and "shocking" sensuousness, but like Narelle Sissons' aggressively monotonous set, there's no variation, just the same thing over and over for 145 intermissionless minutes.
But there is an impressive array of impressive actresses at work: Melinda Helfrich, Karen Baum, Lissa Brennan, Catherine Moore and Gayle Pazerski. A big hand to all, and especially Nike Doukas, who, in the script's only sustained scene of drama, is exquisitely moving.
David Whalen plays Don Juan and, like the pro he is, attacks the part feverishly. The issue might be that Whalen's greatest asset as an actor is that he projects an aura of rock-solid decency ... a quality which has saved a number of shows he's been in. But here it works against him: He's not Don Juan, he's the best friend a woman turns to after being screwed by Don Juan. Whalen working fiercely to close the gap between what he presents and where the character needs to be is an exhaustive battle.