The perks of being a professional hypocrite. In a gender-swapped take on Moliere's 'Dom Juan' piety is nothing but a pose.

It's a funny feeling and not always a welcome one when a play reaches out across the centuries and punches you in the throat.

This happens toward the end of 'Dom Juan', Ashley Tata's gender-swapped production of Moliere's 1665 tragicomedy at Bard College's SummerSeape festival, about 100 miles from New York.

Dom Juan [Amelia Workman], libertine extraordinaire, has finally reformed. Or has she? Turns out her piety is just a pose.

''In today's world, the finest role you can play is that of the morally upright person,'' Dom Juan explains to her servant Sganarelle [Zuzanna Szadkowski].

''The profession of hypocrite has countless perks.''

Her cynical avowal speaks - loudly - of politics today. But wait. It gets worse.

This same speech seems to prefigure Internet trolling [''hypocrites create a cabal of the like-minded, if you attack one, they all turn on you''] and the way that so-called cancel culture seldom cancels anyone in power ["they just bow their heads, sigh contritely, roll their eyes, and everyone forgives them'']

Lines like these might suggest savvy interpolations by the authors of this new translation : Gideon Lester, the artistic director of the Fisher Center at Bard, and Sylvaine Guyot. But no, they're faithful renditions of the 17th-century original. The language has barely been updated.

Great playwrights often have themes that they return to, over and over again. Moliere's is hypocrisy. Which should make Dom Juan, a free thinker who spends most of the play discarding social convention as casually as you or I might wad a kleenex, a hero. Or as in this production, a heroine.

Dom Juan's reality is more complicated - for Moliere and for Tata, too. Here is how Sganarelle describes her boss : ''The greatest scoundrel who ever walked the earth, a fury, a dog, a devil, a rat, a blasphemer who doesn't believe in heaven or hell or werewolves or anything. Which doesn't sound as great.

''Dom Juan'' asks questions - perennial ones - about what an individual owes the community and what she owes herself.

As seductive as it is to see a woman resist subjugation, we are now years removed from hashtag girlboss slogans, which is to say that the idea of freedom in the absence of ethics or solidarity has lost its shimmer.

And a particular lesson of the pandemic has been how easily freedom can be weaponized, how it can make other people less free.

Despite its adornments and seductions, the play is bitter at its heart. Invest too deeply in Don Juan's liberation, or even in her punishment, and the ending will leave a bad taste.

The only alternative is not to care - to lose yourself instead in the production's delights, which is not a particular chore on a sun-drenched afternoon.

Otherwise, you might find yourself thinking, uneasily of the play's prescient moral, spoken by Sganarelle : ''To have power and a wicked soul.''

The World Students Society thanks review author Alexis Soloski.


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