THEATER MIRROR.net – “There goes the maddest wise man, or the wisest mad man…”
Prior to “Man of La Mancha” at Spire Center for the Performing Arts this past Friday, president of Americana Theatre Company, Peter G. Martin, emphasized to the audience that their theatre aims to provide “stories that entertain and stories that matter,” citing “Man of La Mancha” as a prime example. Using the original Don Quixote narrative to portray a deeper point about realism and idealism explored by author Miguel de Cervantes, “Man of La Mancha” portrays much more than a general story about madness and reality than its comical flare may make it seem. Among the many themes of this narrative lays the sheer, “quixotic,” boldness of a madman, imagining himself a gallant knight and romantic defender, clinging to who he believes he is and what he stands for. While he may be foolish on the surface, the story questions the value that dreaming and idealizing still have—which may be just the thing that our modern society needs.
The story begins with the incarceration of tax collector and failed playwright Michael de Cervantes, a fictional character named after the real-life author of the best-selling, seventeenth-century novel, Don Quixote. Trouble arises for Cervantes (Scott Wahle) when his fellow prisoners confiscate his only possessions, including his precious manuscript. In a cry to not destroy the manuscript, Cervantes asks for a mock trial, telling the inmates that he will tell the play through re-enactment and costume, and then the fate of his manuscript may be judged. Quickly, the production establishes a play within a play framework, and transitions with a swift, clear segue into the re-enactment of Cervantes’ story. It should be noted that the performance remains consistent with smooth, creative transitions throughout the play, refraining from curtain closings, leaving the scope of “a play within the prison” on the stage.
The play within Cervantes’ play begins with its protagonist Alonso Quijano (also Scott Wahle), a mad man obsessed with fiction to the point of delusion. He believes himself to be a brave knight with chivalrous duties—named Don Quixote. Beside him is his loyal squire and silly counterpart, Sancho (Ruben Navarro)Rube, whose quirky behavior has him constantly interjecting his “belly full of proverbs” to augment Quixote’s ‘quest,” and, with the help of Navarro’s thoroughly convincing performance, allows him to act as a strong, consistent comic relief to the delusional journey of Don Quixote.
Quixote’s sanity, or rather the level of his imagination, is first questioned when he claims that the inn ahead is a mighty castle, and that his travel there is a noble quest. While Sancho notes the delusion, he continues anyway, later reporting that he likes to be around Quixote, possibly representing the intoxicating and entertaining feeling that idealism and imagination create. The story picks up at the ‘castle’, where Quixote meets an inn worker, an abused wench named Aldonza. Quixote claims she is Dulcinea, the woman whom he shall devote his life to protecting and serving. Unlike Sancho, Aldonza (Bethany Lauren James), does not overtly buy into Quixote’s delusions, deeming him a fool with mal intent, yet wonders privately that he may be the real thing with her number, “What Does He Want of Me”. It is a stellar rendition, and her performance throughout is nothing short of spectacular. Fully embodying the role of a completely foolish mad man, Wahle and his solo performances are untouchable in numbers such as “The Impossible Dream”. His Quixote remains steadfast, no matter what others may think of him, and he will do anything for his ‘quest’ of saving Dulcinea. But while he battles foes and pursues his made-up journey, Quixote’s greatest enemy – reality – is just around the corner, putting Cervantes in a position where he must resolve his story to satisfy both the prisoners among him, and the audience watching.
Behind the beautiful and telling songs performed by each cast member throughout the story is pianist Nancy Sparklin and guitarists Nick Hancock and Jesse Winton, who despite their number provide a rich orchestral sound. The three manage to remain in sync on the Spanish-root score, flawlessly staying in rhythm for both background sounds and vocal numbers, showing that, while the show is not a huge production, it performs exactly as if it were.
This is a terrific production, and well worth a trip to the South Shore. For tickets, go to: http://www.spirecenter.org/
Man of La Mancha – Written by Dale Wasserman, Lyrics by Joe Darion; Music by Mitch Leigh. Directed by Dr. Michael Kirkland; Choreographed by Derek G. Martin; Set Design by David Friday; Costumes by Brian Kenerson; Lighting by Heather M. Crocker. Presented by The Americana Theatre Company at The Spire Center for the Performing Arts, 25 Court St, Plymouth MA through July 29
By Evan McKenna