My first play... There is always something of a miracle about a first time. The first time opens your eyes to the person you really are. You learn something invaluable. You become confident in your destiny. The first time is a farewell to your childhood. A new cycle begins; the life to come lies ahead of you. When a first time is a success, it even traces the course of your destiny. But there is always something false about a first time. For a first time is never a first time whatever one may say. Before a first time, there have always been broken dreams, fruitless attempts, abortive plans, feverish hopes, restlessness, impatience, disappointments and restlessness, over and over again. Before I wrote Don Juan on Trial, in one go, when I was 29, I had filled a lot of pages.
At 16, I had understood (or made up my mind) that I was a writer. And I wrote and directed my first plays. I even appeared in them at high school. Everybody, from my fellow-pupils to the parents and teachers, agreed on one point: I was gifted. This instant recognition surprised me. I was delighted. But it forced me to be tough with myself. Since I was no longer compelled to seek approval in the microcosm in which I was living, I started to ask myself frankly what I thought of my attempts. When I compared them to the old or modern classics I was devouring at that time, I was of course disappointed and I decided I would wait and learn.
My diagnosis was very simple: I already had a lot to say but nothing to communicate. All the texts I had scribbled before Don Juan on Trial and up to my first novel, for instance, The Sect of Egoists, could be compared to a singer or dancer's exercises: a mere technical rehearsal before the real performance. When I was about 28 and had completed my emotional and philosophical education, I knew, at last, what I had to say, what my themes and obsessions were; I had discovered the delicate balance that would be mine: from that moment on, doubt would be my motto.Don Juan on Trial is how I personally see Don Juan - just as I gave my own interpretation of Casanova, in The Libertine, behind the mask of Diderot. Don Juan is always on the move and he wants to be stopped. He gets carried away by desire and wants to fall in love to cast anchor. But such an equation is impossible.
To surrender to one's impulses breaks down the other person's resistance. Once Don Juan has won, he is left with nothing: neither the impulse nor the other person. Don Juan does not know what pleasure is, since his one aim is conquest. If he could feel interested in his delight and not only in his desires, he would know what experiencing intense pleasure really means. He could stop the passing of time and he could spend the rest of his life in a voluptuous ecstasy. But Don Juan thinks like a soldier, he is a conqueror and nothing but a conqueror.
He doesn't feel anything orgasmic during an orgasm. He just feels freed from certain tensions. Once his desire has been fulfilled, he waits for the next desire to arouse, which will also be satisfied once it is fulfilled. Don Juan's life is focused on sex and yet he has never understood what sex is really about. For him, sex is only the egocentric fulfilment of his urges. He never even notices all the doors he could open, the way that would lead him to pleasure, to the other person, to mutual sensual delight, to a sentimental journey. Although Don Juan is always on the move, he goes round in circles. Since he only follows his impulses, he is condemned to endless exhaustion. His adventurous life becomes inept and boring. So, I enjoyed myself interfering with Don Juan's schemes.
In the 17th- and 18th-century literature about him, Don Juan is always punished by the commendatore. Rather than an angry and resentful God out of the Old Testament, I imagined a more loving and affectionate son, too loving maybe, a character who would be at the same time Christlike and perverse. So here is Don Juan's real punishment: to fall in love with a man, when he has been looking for love everywhere, for so long and so mistakenly, under women's petticoats. Does this extraordinary love reveal any hint of unspoken homosexuality?
Some psychologists have suggested that 'donjuanism', this perpetual but never-satisfied desire for more women, may, in a virile way, hide a latent homosexuality and reveal an ambiguous cult of man. I leave them the responsability for this explanation, because that's not what ultimately interests me. For me, the most important thing is to make the distinction between sex and love. Love is asexual. Love can come to light and bloom in sexuality. But love can exist without being sexual. The fondness one has for another person, the constantly renewed fascination for him/her and for this person's mysteries, one's devotion, all this has little to do with two bodies touching each another. Although it can be very enjoyable. So, In Don Juan on Trial, you can already find the themes I later took up again in Enigma Variations.
Thanks to Jean Luc Tardieu, Don Juan on Trial was first staged in 1991. I was as enchanted as a child looking at a Christmas tree. With that play, I went to my first opening night. Then, a hundred performances later, I went to my first last performance. I felt so desperate that I swore I would never see the play again. And yet, it is still performed by small professional companies as well as by many non-professional ones. Over the years, they have invited me hundreds of times, and so nicely, but I always refused the offer, until a few weeks ago when there was a tribute to my work. I had to see Don Juan on Trial again. I was surprised because I discovered its qualities and also some of its minor defects. For a moment, I thought these defects should be corrected. Then I saw myself as the 29-year-old I was when I had just finished writing my first play. This young man would surely hate the 40-year-old successful playwright I have become for correcting his play. Out of sheer respect for that young man, I've refrained from doing so.
London, Great-Britain, 28 may 2000.