- By Dale Wasserman;
- Music by Mitch Leigh; Lyrics by Joe Darion
- Directed by Mark A. Rhea
- Produced by Keegan Theatre
- By Gary McMillan
Mark Rhea is the man and David Jourdan is his Man. What a duo. Keegan Theatre is in summer reruns (having presented Man of La Mancha in 2001) and DC is the finer for this reprise.
Spiked with delicious humor, Man of La Mancha is nonetheless a classic musical drama, bittersweet and heartbreaking, disturbing and ennobling. The Man is a triumvirate character conceived by Dale Wasserman to tell the tale of two men unbowed by injustice, one of whom struggles with reality in a very cataclysmic way. Miguel de Cervantes, revered as the inventor of the novel as a literary form, is the inspiration for this parable. To support his art, Cervantes undertook a stint as a tax collector, but ran afoul of establishment interests by holding church property holdings accountable. And so he is imprisoned by the Inquisition for this irreligious transgression. Awaiting one kangaroo court, Cervantes faces trial for “crimes against reality” by his fellow prisoners, with his literary manuscript at risk of burning should he be convicted of unwarranted idealism.
He spins the tale of Alonso Quijana in his defense of virtue and heroic idealism. Quijana, in his dotage, fancies himself a knight in quest, Don Quixote de la Mancha. Quijana’s abetting servant, Sancho Panza, consciously bridges the chasm which separates Quijana from Quixote. Most assume that Quixote embodies Cervantes. This is the obvious assumption, but Panza also expresses many of the plainspoken truths of the show from a more “knowing” perspective than his master Quijana/Quixote.
Mark Rhea demonstrates in this reprise mounting that Man of La Mancha resonates deepest in an intimate environment. The dank, rustic set and lighting perfectly establish the scenes. You can sense the slime and grime of the prison and the scenes in the inn may have you scratching for fleas.
I did not see David Jourdan in the 2001 production, so kudos to Keegan for bringing him back. His Quixote is alternately distracted and driven, frail and heroic. There’s a lot of acting wisdom in Jourdan’s performance, delivering “Man of La Mancha,” Dulcinea,” and “Impossible Dream” in fine voice and, more importantly, perfectly in character. He partners well with Michael Innocenti as Sancho Panza, the Don’s squire. The character is essential to the show in providing comic relief for a time that ranges from hardscrabble to brutal (the Inquisition is only funny in Monty Python’s hands). Many actors have played Sancho way over the top in oh so many directions. Innocenti plays neither idiot, nor clown, nor Keystone cop. He seems to have cleverly drawn his inspiration from his song, “I Really Like Him,” imbuing his character with kindness and gentle humor, and the audience warms to him from the beginning.
As the Padre, Harv Lester leaves not a dry eye in the house when he sweetly sings “The Psalm.” Quijana’s niece Antonia (Carolyn Myers) and housekeeper Marie (Jane Petkofsky) join with the Padre in one of my favorite songs from the show, “I’m Only Thinking of Him.” The irony of their self-serving, so-called compassion for Quijana is great fun and perfectly demonstrates that, while not tilting at windmills, Quixote is not the only person suffering from delusions.
In the unglamorous role of Aldonza/Dulcinea is Carolyn Agan. The role has fire and passion amidst a load of abuse, both verbal and physical. It’s a challenge to balance the anger with the underlying sorrow. Agan makes the most of “What Does He Want of Me?” But this Aldonza is mostly an uncontrolled burn blazing a trail like napalm through a jungle of violence, presumably directed to be explosive and shrill.
Kelly Peacock’s costumes fit the bill nicely, especially those for Cervantes, Don Quixote, and Marie, the housekeeper to Alonso Quijana (aka Don Quixote). For the most part, prisoners and other paupers would not seem to tax the imagination for wardrobe. It reminds me of the Forbidden Broadway Les Mis parody “I Dreamed a Show” where the heroine’s lament remembers when…
- Scenery looked so pretty
- I didn’t sing one song then die
- And all my costumes weren’t so gritty
Peacock’s creation of a noble steed and burro for our knight and his squire is completely charming. The choreography by Melissa-Leigh Douglass is earthy and raw. The fights entertain and Aldonza’s rape is staged forcefully.
The production is a mature take on an essentially serious, and seriously intelligent, musical.