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'Don Juan Comes Home From Iraq' updates the classic character

Keith J. Conallen as Don Juan, Kate Czajkowski as Cressida, and Sarah Gliko as Curator portray the story of a man coming home from the war. Kate Czajkowski is Cressida, Keith J. Conallen is Don Juanand Sarah Gliko (background) plays Curator in "Don Juan Comes Home From Iraq."
Credit: Alexander Iziliaev

The character of Don Juan has captivated artists in diverse mediums for centuries, from Mozart to Lord Byron to Johnny Depp. The latest exploits of the legendary lover come from the pen of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel. The Wilma Theater will present the world premiere of Vogel’s “Don Juan Comes Home From Iraq” beginning this week, directed by Wilma artistic director Blanka Zizka.

“I’m always incredibly moved when we have certain themes that generation after generation pick up as deep archetypes,” Vogel says. Her version of the story was particularly inspired by Austro-Hungarian playwright Ödön von Horváth’s 1936 piece “Don Juan Comes Back From the War,” which follows the lothario’s return to Germany after four years fighting in World War I.

“Horváth responded to all of the Don Juans of myth, but asked what it would be like to be a Don Juan who survived four years in the trenches and comes home,” she explains. “What happens to his incredible appetite for seduction and ability to cast aside women? What happens to his desire for conquest when one has been conquered by war? That was the initial starting point for me.”

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Asking the same questions about an American Don Juan returning from our current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, Vogel embarked on a two-year script development process at the Wilma that included extensive interviews and workshops with veterans and military and vocal training for the company of actors. She didn’t incorporate the vets’ specific words or stories into her play, but instead drew on their feelings and experiences to answer questions about her own modern day Don Juan.

The acting company gets into uniform. From left to right, Keith J. Conallen, Kevin Meehan, Lindsay Smiling, Hannah Gold, Brian Ratcliffe, Yvette Ganier Keith J. Conallen, Kevin Meehan, Lindsay Smiling, Hannah Gold, Brian Ratcliffe and Yvette Ganier try on their camouflage gear during rehearsal.
Credit: Alexander Iziliaev

“I felt that the original play showed me what it felt like to come home to Germany in 1919,” Vogel says. “I wanted to find out what happens to us as human beings in the 21st century fighting a war where you’re one percent of the population living a completely different existence than a civilian back home in America. Their words and writing gave me an incredible sense of what the world felt like to them.”

The Wilma residency was Vogel’s first experience writing for a particular group of actors and technicians, and she responded by, she says, “trying to write little valentines” to everyone in the company. But most of all, she wanted to find a connection to the country’s fighting men and women that she feels has been lacking.

“I went into this process very scared that I hadn’t been paying attention to our wars other than on half-hour news broadcasts every night. We need to listen and watch and look around us on the streets, and I feel like as Americans we’re doing a lot of not looking.”

'Don Juan Comes Home From Iraq'
March 19-April 20, opening night March 26
Wilma Theater
265 S.Broad St.
$35-$66, 215-546-7824
www.wilmatheater.org

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