Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
Also see Arty's review of The Nether
Based upon Miguel de Cervantes' classic novel "Don Quixote"published in 1604, and second in all-time sales to the BibleDale Wasserman's book for Man of La Mancha imbeds the Don Quixote saga within a context drawn from Cervantes' own life: being brought to trial by the Spanish inquisition. Cast into a prison's holding area populated by a gaggle of cut-throats and peddlers of sin who await trial, Cervantes, calling himself a poet of the theater, draws on props and costumes from his trunks to divert his cellmates from assaulting him by engaging them in the enactment of his manuscript.
In its original staging, the time frame for this holding-room is Cervantes' own lifetime, the late 1500s, reflected in the set and costume designs. In a stroke of genius, director Peter Rothstein has time-travelled the setting, turning it into a windowless cinderblock-walled room. Discarding the overture, for 30 minutes before the play's actual start, the room's occupants enter one by one, dressed in clothes that could be seen any day of the week on Lake Street, each silently expressing pride or anger or fear. They seat themselves on the cheap molded plastic chairs, waiting to be called forth for judgement. Given our daily news and Latté Da's diverse casting, this appears to be not a Spanish dungeon, but an American immigrant detention center. Yet not a word of Wasserman's text is changed. When the leader of the prisoners, called The Governor, asks Cervantes why he is there, he forthrightly states he is being called before the inquisition. It makes no difference: etched in our mind is the understanding that this is not a history story, but a poetic depiction of current events.
From this moment we are hooked, galvanized, as much by the interplay of the prisoners in this holding room as by Cervantes' tale of an aging gentleman brooding over the wrongs of the world until he goes mad, believing himself to be a knight charged to do battle against injustice and restore chivalry and honor to their rightful place. Calling himself Don Quixote de la Mancha, he enlists his faithful friend Sancho Panza to join him as squire to his Knight Errant. After a noble failure doing battle with a windmill, which appears to Quixote as a monster, he and Sancho repair to a castleactually a rough roadside inn. There he meets the wench Aldonza, who serves food and drink to the muleteers at their tables, and serves herself to them in their beds. Don Quixote sees none of this, only a vision of chaste loveliness, to whom he gives the name "Dulcinea." While the humiliated family the gentleman left behind are determined to bring his lunatic antics to an end, Aldonza is deeply troubled, wondering if she dare seek within herself the faith to rise above her debased existence. Though she is brutally tortured by the men who see her only as their whore, her transformation is both heartbreaking and life affirming, a glorious moment both on page and on stage.
Wasserman's book, finely crafted, does not stand alone. It is aided by a lush score by composer Mitch Leigh and lyricist Joe Darion that includes such musical monuments as "The Impossible Dream," "Dulcinea", "Man of La Mancha," "To Each His Dulcinea," "What Do You Want of Me?," and "Aldonza." In turn, these songs capture their characters' idealism, hope, despair and confusion, while others create whole scenes that illuminate Don Quixote's noble form of madness, such as his being dubbed a knight by the kindly Innkeeper. Only one song in the entire score might be considered a throw-awaySancho Panza's "A Little Gossip," but it serves to bring some comic relief at a time when the story's pathos is almost unbearable. Latté Da's resident music director Denise Prosek provides her usual miracles, creating beautiful, full sounds from a four-member orchestra.
Rothstein's production gloriously captures the heart of Don Quixote's quest. As the prisoners take their parts in Cervantes' tale, their pedestrian apparel is replaced by vibrant costumes, designed by Rich Hamson with a folkloric quality that brings to mind the work of children's book illustrator Tomie dePaola. All of the characters in Cervantes' story, save Don Quixote, Sancho Panza, and Aldonza, wear half masks that give them false noses and foreheads, a device that delightfully succeeds in establishing the pretense of the narrative. Cast members wave tree boughs when there is a need for a forest, and a pair of actors don horse heads and serapes to provide Quixote and Sancho with their noble steeds. A couple of simple tables and trunks are moved around to create each setting, in concert with the sublime lighting.
Then there is the cast, a gathering of sublime talent who pour their hearts into this show. Martín Solá, a New York based actor, makes a magnificent local debut as Cervantes and Don Quixote. He delivers every line with utmost conviction, both as the idealist Cervantes, who has seen the brutality of the world, yet still has "never had the courage to believe in nothing," and as Don Quixote, whose strain of madness might make him the sanest of all men in a world gone mad. Solá has a gorgeous voice, delivering a rousing "Man of La Mancha," a tender "Dulcinea," and an inspirational "Impossible Dream" that stops the show. As his fair maiden, and everyone else's kitchen slut, Aldonza, Meghan Kreidler is sensational. Her self-contained slow burn as a sullen prisoner in the holding room as she accepts her part in Cervantes' play, carries over to her tough portrayal of Aldonza, accustomed to taking abuse from the men around her, thrown off her feet by kindness and respect. When she begins to believe in the goodness Don Quixote has bestowed upon her, she lights up the room. Her singing conveys an inner longing in "What Do You Want of Me" and rips the stage apart with the despairing "Aldonza."
Zach Garcia is delightfully innocent and good-hearted as Sancho Panza, fully aware of his friend's insanity but willing to go along with it because, as he says, "I Like Him." Andre Shoals brings his powerful frame to bear as the Governor, spokesperson for the prisoners, but turns into a goodhearted soul as the Innkeeper. Jon-Michael Reese draws some comic moments out of his role as the Padre, but is pure heart in the soul-searching "To Each His Dulcinea," while Rodolfo Nieto's solemn deep voice lends ominous power to Doctor Carrasco, the man of science who does battle against madness.
The battle between Quixote and the muleteers, and the abduction of Aldonza are both choreographed with style and vigor by Annie Enneking. There is not so much stage dancing in this production, but powerful state pictures framed by the keen eye of director Rothman.
If your impression of the Man of La Mancha is that it is an old-fashioned, sentimental piece, you may have heard too many overwrought renditions of "The Impossible Dream," or perhaps only know it by way of the unfortunate 1972 movie version. The original show opened on Broadway in 1965 and won the 1966 Best Musical Tonya year after Fiddler on the Roof, a year before Cabaret. It easily holds its own between those milestone musicals. Theater Latté Da has taken that winning show, uncovered the best of its heart and wisdom, and made it feel relevant to the year 2017. In 1965, with the struggle for civil rights blazing and the war in Vietnam heating up, many Americans were seeking an "Impossible Dream." Doesn't that sound like a good idea right now as well?
Man of La Mancha continues through October 22, 2017, at the Ritz Theater, 345 13th Avenue NE, Minneapolis, MN. Tickets: $37.00 - $49.00. For tickets call 612-339-3303 or go to theaterlatteda.com.
Music: Mitch Leigh; Lyrics: Joe Darion; Book: Dale Wasserman; Original Production Staging: Albert Marre; Director: Peter Rothstein; Music Director: Denise Prosek; Scenic Design: Michael Hoover; Costume Design: Rich Hamson; Lighting Design: Marcus Dilliard; Sound Design: Kevin Springer; Properties Master: Abbee Warmboe; Wig Design: Paul Bigot; Dialect Coach: Keely Wolter; Fight Choreographer: Annie Enneking; Technical Director: Bethany Reinfeld; Stage Manager: Tiffany K. Orr; Assistant Director: Shannon Twohy; Assistant Stage Manager: Lyndsey R Harter.
Cast: McKinnley Aitchison (Antonia), Zach Garcia (Sancho), Dan Hopman (The Captain/Tenorio), Meghan Kreidler (Aldonza), Rodolfo Nieto (The Duke/Dr. Carrasco), Sara Ochs (Maria/The Housekeeper), Jon-Michael Reese (Paco/The Padre), Andre Shoals (The Governor/The Innkeeper), Martín Solá (Miguel de Cervantes/Don Quixote), Guillermo Rodriguez Zermeño (Pedro). Ensemble: Joe Allen, D. Angelina Nguyen Gabrielle Sacha, and Mason Tyer.