REVIEWING THE RASH of Christmas-themed theater that breaks out every holiday season is unquestionably the worst part of my job. I've got no beef with Christmas itself, but the attendant entertainment glut is the height of tackiness, as audiences pay top dollar for their annual dose of synthetic goodwill. Halloween shows fare better—I'll take fake gore over fake cheer any day. Better still is the Miracle Theatre's annual Day of the Dead show, which celebrates Mexico's Día de los Muertos with an original production combining theater, music, and dance.
The details of the Miracle's annual date with death vary—this year's offering is more linear than usual, as the character-driven ¡Viva Don Juan! draws from history and language more than movement.
The premise is a little meta: The spirit of the famously lusty Don Juan (James Peck) is concerned that, because of his tarnished reputation, no one will build him an altar on the Day of the Dead. He makes a pact with the devil that earns him one more day on earth to try to salvage his legacy. To do so, he falls in with a group of actors who are producing a play about his life, where he tries to change the way his story is told.
Two of the show's most stunning moments come via song, in Spanish-language numbers from Sofia May-Cuxim and Sara Fay Goldman that promptly made me tear up even though I had no idea what was actually being said. (Do any other monolingual white people have this problem? Ladies singing in Spanish—gets me every time.) Of course, Act One should've ended after May-Cuxim brought the crowd to swift, earnest applause—that there was another scene before intermission is only one of the problem areas in a flabby script that could stand to lose a good 30 minutes. And you'll have to forgive a few plot twists ripped straight from the telenovelas: Don Juan's long-lost daughter! Etc.
But the show's strengths handily outweigh its weaknesses. James Peck is new to Portland stages, and his characterization of Don Juan is assured and conspiratorial, promptly winning the audience to his side even despite his character's well known... foibles. Song and dance numbers are lively, and jokes hit equally in English and (judging from the laughs) Spanish. If this show isn't already a holiday tradition? Make it one.