MADISON, NJ – “To dream the impossible dream, to bear with unbearable sorrow.” These lyrics and much more have left indelible impressions over the years since “Man of La Mancha” first came on the scene in 1965.
Surely the haunting, enduring music of “La Mancha” would be enough to pull any of us out of our funk in this election season, whether fretting about the state of the world or our fighting own personal demons.
The play, written by Dale Wasserma, with music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion, was first performed at Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut and then at the Washington Square Theatre in New York. With Richard Kiley in the lead, the play moved on to Broadway and won five Tony awards.
It all takes place in a dungeon in sixteenth century during the Spanish Inquisition. The play-within-a-play revolves around Miguel de Cervantes, who has written a manuscript about Don Quixote. He has been imprisoned for foreclosing a monastery. As he awaits trial, he persuades the other prisoners to let him act out a play before judgment is passed.
Artistic Director Bonnie Monte has assembled an extraordinary cast to bring this lyrical production to life. William Michaels is the engaging, flamboyant Don Quixote, when not playing his creator, Cervantes. He totally transforms himself into the "knight of the woeful countenance" as he is dubbed in one of the scenes in the prison. Michaels has just the right touch of madness as the knight, seeing nothing but bravery and noble deeds in battling windmills and rescuing damsels in distress. He is equally commanding as the author Cervantes.
He has arrived with a trunk full of props and a script that he talks his fellow prisoners into performing. Thus, we have the prostitute Aldonza transformed into the lady Dulcinea. Jane Pitch brings a bold, earthy quality to the role, especially following her rape by fellow prisoners, who she has attempted to comfort in their defeat.
Blake Pfeil is Cervantes’ Manservant, as well as Sancho Panza who protects his master. Sanchez is warm and loyal as he sings “I Really like Him” and “A Little Gossip.”
There are hypocritical moments when presumed relatives sing “We’re Only Thinking of Him,” mourning at a deathbed scene.
Patrick Boll is assured as the Duke/Dr.Carrasco. David Hess does a fluid transformation as the Governor/Innkeeper and Darren Matthias is powerful as Captain of the Inquisition and Head Inquisitor.
Musical director Doug Oberhamer has provided exceptional background music, never overwhelming the actors, but always bringing vibrancy to the scene. The severe prison setting by Michael Schweikardt has a striking drawbridge-like staircase, clanging shut with an iron gate, that warns prisoners of their likely fate. Lighting by Michel Gannett lends subtlety to the proceedings. Fight director Rick Sordelet helps immensely with the jousting scenes between the knight and those who would fight him. Costumes by Michelle Eden Humphrey perfectly convey the rag-tag lives of these prisoners, who are occasionally abetted by Cervantes’ trunk of costumes.
Surely ‘La Mancha’s’ message of hope over despair, of kindness over cruelty, isn’t lost in today’s world. How quickly a song like “Little Bird, Little Bird” can shift from sweetly lyrical to swaggering insult.
If you only have time for one or two plays this fall, make “Man of La Mancha” your first choice. See the production at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, located on the campus of Drew University in Madison. The play continues through Nov. 18. For tickets, call 973-408-5600 or visit ShakespeareNJ.org.
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