The University of Calgary takes theatergoers on a sex and Shakespeare romp

As school fast approaches and students go to buy their books so does the University of Calgary drama department. If this season had a theme it would definitely include lyricism and wordplay. David Ives’s Don Juan in Chicago is the first of the three mainstage productions to feature witty wordplay and a clever lyrical script.

“It’s a comedy set in Chicago as the name implies” laughs Clem Martini award-winning playwright and head of the university’s drama department. “It’s a different look at the Don Juan story. He’s less of a cynical individual and more of an innocent who’s taken through sexuality and a new understanding of life and love.”

The first act takes place in Seville as a young 30-year-old Don Juan sells his soul to the devil for immortality. One little catch — the deal hinges on him bedding a new woman every day for the rest of his life. Five hundred years and 182500 women later his journey leaves him in modern-day Chicago — with the first woman he ever bedded still chasing him all those years later.

Don Juan’s innocent story about love is followed up by the dark satirical musical Hello Hello by Karen Hines. “We’ve got contemporary Canadian theatre and given that the university teaches playwriting it’s great” says Martini. “All of these plays are meant to multitask — they’re meant to offer an audience entertainment but they’re also meant to be a model and research for students.”

Both students and audiences will be able to do a bit of research themselves when Hamlet hits the stage at the University Theatre. Calgary-based Shakespeare scholar and current graduate student Patrick Finn has organized a symposium on one of Shakespeare’s greatest works. He’s also revisited the play paring down some of the Bard’s excesses. Martini explains that having the opportunity to actually learn about Hamlet in addition to seeing the work is something unique to a university-based theatre company — something that can further the audience’s understanding of the daunting Elizabethan language.

“It’s a window to the kind of things a university drama department can do that others can’t” he says. “We cannot only offer the play but also offer a context. We can give an invitation to the audience to not only see the play but to delve into it in a more complicated involved way.”