the Roundabout Theater is celebrating the holiday season with a rare treat -- a replendent reading of George Bernard Shaw's "Don Juan in Hell." Though written independently, shaw's most monumental debate became the third act of "man and Superman." The infernal talkathon confronts the lively shade of Don Juan (Paul Sparer) with the animated though less voluble shades of Dona Ana (Arlene Francis), the Commandant (Ronald Drake), and the Devil (Philip Bosco).
In the production gracefully staged by George Keathley, the contending revenats fight their civil war of words with Shaw's arsenal of iconoclastic wit, verbal resource, and eloquence. They relish it and revel in it. Mr. Sparer is at the top of his considerable form as Don Juan, the restless spirit for whom there are no boundaries of the intellect. When the Devil glibly asks what is the use of knowing, the Shavian Juan Replies: "Why, to be able to choose the line of greatest advantage instead of yielding in the direction of least resistance. . . . The philosopher is Nature's pilot. And there you have our difference: to be in hell is to drift: to be in heaven is to steer." Don Juan has found his course, and the fortunate actor (in this case the deserving Mr. Sparer) has found a part to warm the cockles of an appreciative player's heart.
Don Juan is keeping excellent company at the Roundabout. Mr. Bosco, who has played the part before, is a genial and plausible Satan, gracefully pursuing his diabolical themes, a model of almst imperturbable benignity. Mr. Drake's Commandant is what Shaw intended him to be -- the cheerful, simple-minded product of the old-school-tie establishment, a colonel from the days of colonialism. With a touch of class and jewels to match, handsome, black-gowned Miss Francis is the quintessential Dona Ana, a mixture of conventional morality and sensuous piety. This is, of course, a formal occasion, with the men in black ties and dinner jackets, coordinated by A. Christina Giannini), on a formal blackand-white checkerboard platform by Roger Mooney. The lighting is by Robert F. Strohmeier, and Philip Campanella supervised the occasional Mozart music.
Instead of the medieval conundrum, "Don Juan in Hell" suggests another: How many ophorisms cn dance in a shaft of Shavian lightning? At the Roundabout, one doesn't stop to count. One merely enjoys.