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Reviewed by Ioana Marza for Readers' Favorite
Don Juan in Hankey, PA by Gale Martin follows the troubles of the Board of Directors of a small town opera company while trying to organise the production of Don Giovanni and save their struggling opera house from financial ruin. Everything that could go wrong for them does from the outset. The singer they were hoping to employ becomes unavailable, one of the directors has a heart attack while the mother of another dies in extraordinary, even unearthly, circumstances. Through their sheer determination and ingenuity, the members of the opera guild tackle the challenges. Their main goal is to make opera accessible to ordinary folk, and they would do anything from lying and impersonating other people, to sending shirtless photos of the baritone to all their patrons. They find a replacement performer, an up and coming irresistible Argentine who is an immense flirt; they bring new members to the guild; and also find (and lose) love in various forms, all of this while more and more obstacles ensue.
While Gale Martin must had done plenty of research into the opera world before writing this, no knowledge of opera is necessary in order to read it. Don Juan in Hankey, PA fits very closely the definition of 'opera buffa' - while still part of the opera world, it was written for and depicts ordinary people. Elaborate language and grandiose opera terms are avoided. In the cast of characters, Gale Martin mixes a cocktail of archetypes from the opera world: the over the top womaniser, the diva, the grieving husband, the elderly rich woman who falls for the unworthy young Don Juan, and even ghosts (good and bad) play a part in this laugh-out-loud comedy. Personally, I was not sure about the inclusion of the ghostly dimension. Nevertheless, if you are after a light read with a different setting, you will find this riotous, slightly crazy slapstick comedy a lot of good fun.