Theater Review: Man of La Mancha

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Sancho and Don Quixote ride towards their extended run through May 3rd

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The Shakespeare Theatre Company’s adaptation of Man of La Mancha does justice to Don Quixote and Cervantes. Rich with humor, song and crazed chivalry that belies the looming darkness our hero, Miguel de Cervantes must ward off in the guise of Don Quixote.

The play begins with the curtain already up. The actors already on stage, immersed in their roles as prisoners scrounging about, awaiting their trial. The setting: the Spanish Inquisition’s dungeon. Enter Miguel de Cervantes and his trusty manservant. The prisoners engage Miguel in a life threatening mock trial. Miguel draws his defense in the form of a play; calling upon his judge, jury and executioners to play roles in his impossible dream of defense.

Emotions run rampant alongside Don Quixote’s addled chivalry, Anthony Warlow’s phenomenal performance as Cervantes playing Don Quixote is sure to inspire goosebumps. Perhaps the most magical scene in the play (of which there are many) can be found as Cervantes applies makeup and wardrobe before the audience narrating as he undergoes his transformation from Cervantes to Don Quixote. His voice grows older and wild, his visage firmer yet benign until Cervantes is no more, merely Don Quixote.
Nehal Joshi’s performance as Sancho, loyal sidekick to Don Quixote rings with affability. It’s impossible not to fall in love with a character that so wholeheartedly looks after the crazed hero for no more reason than that he “really really likes him.”

The audience is lead on a journey from taming wild ogres that are truly windmills to warding off assailants that seek to do fair maiden harm; in this frame story it is quite easy to lose oneself in the tale of Don Quixote, forgetting that the cast of characters are prisoners of the Inquisition. The prisoners enthusiastically adorn their roles as an escape from their prison of reality (or reality of prison). The Governor, the alpha male amongst the prisoners all too eagerly embraces the persona of a humble innkeeper with little control over his guests. A role so contrary to his existence in prison, and yet tethered to his true persona for in either role his desire to maintain order and peace remains consistent.

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Cervantes’ continued existence in prison hinges upon his ability to move the plot forward. Should he fail to keep the story going his cast of characters would easily revert back to the prisoners that seek to do him harm. Your correspondent though, could not help but wonder as the play ensued that if the prisoners transformed into both actors and audience what did that make the true audience? Had we undergone a transformation as well? So embracing and welcoming is Man of La Mancha, your correspondent found himself on numerous occasions resisting the urge to join in on song and dance.  Your correspondent did not feel like an audience member, he felt apart of the story.

Aldonza may say that “the world is a dungheap and we are but maggots that crawl in it,” but Cervantes ushers the audience away from such a dour existence to La Mancha. A land where contradictions are something to aspire to, where dreaming the impossible dream is attainable and righting the unrightable wrong seems truly within grasp.

The Duke believes that “a man must come to terms with life as it is” and perhaps life is a dungheap but, like Sancho and Dulcinea, your correspondent would much rather dream the impossible dream with Cervantes and his Knight of the Woeful Countenance because “… I like him…I really really like him.”

By Denis Sgouros

Man of La Mancha
book by Dale Wasserman
lyrics by Joe Darion
composed by Mitch Leigh
directed by Alan Paul
Mar 17 2015—May 03 2015

Runtime:
about 1 hour 50 minutes

with no intermission

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