Sunday, October 12, 2014

Faulkner: "Man of LaMancha"

The multiple award-winning musical Man of La Mancha (1965) is being given a solid production at the Faulkner University Dinner Theatre under Jason Clark South's direction.

Using Matt Dickson's flexible cave-like prison set's assorted playing levels, ramps, steps, openings, and drawbridge to good advantage, Mr. South's talented ensemble of 17 actors fill the stage portraying some 42 characters among them with simple costume adjustments and mannerisms to differentiate each role.

Add Marilyn Swears on piano and Mark Benson on percussion to expertly accompany the high quality singing voices of the ensemble, and the tale of Miguel de Cervantes' iconic "Don Quixote" comes to life for two-and-a-half hours on the Faulkner stage.

While Dale Wasserman's script, with music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion, does not pretend to be utterly faithful to the complexities of Cervantes' 17th Century picaresque novel, it does capture its source's essential spirit, if not the full bite of its satire. -- Wasserman's conceit is to have Cervantes [Terry Brown] brought to prison facing charges of the Spanish Inquisition, where, as an entertainment to plead his case among the prisoners as a kind of warm-up to the actual trial, he conscripts the inmates to play the roles of his tale, while he himself inhabits the central character of Don Quixote de la Mancha on his quest as a knight errant to change the harshness of the real world and restore chivalry and goodness to "Impossible Dream", perhaps.

Accompanied by his ever faithful servant Sancho Panza [Brandtley McDonald], and instantly besotted by a kitchen-wench/whore Aldonza [Jesse Alston] -- a woman he idealizes as Dulcinea, in his mind the fair lady to whom the knight offers service -- Quixote's vivid imagination that borders madness at times, transforms the banal and ugly world into a romanticized idealization of it. -- His confusion of truth and fiction is questioned by the Governor/Innkeeper [Blake Williams] among others, much to his consternation.

Man of La Mancha is enhanced by its musical score, with a number of now famous songs: the entire Ensemble shines in a few of them, but it is in individual voices that both the music and lyrics both punctuate or comment on the action and demonstrate the many talents in Faulkner's cast. Antonia [Emily Woodring], the Housekeeper [Rhonda Cattley], and the Padre [Morgan Baker] compliment one another in "I'm Only thinking of Him"; and Mr. Baker's solo "To Each His Dulcinea" showcases his supple voice. Mr. McDonald's strong voice and fully committed characterizations make him one to watch whenever he holds forth in such numbers as "I Really Like Him" and "A Little Gossip".

Ms. Alston's Aldonza/Dulcinea is thoroughly convincing, as she reluctantly portrays the difficult transition from kitchen wench to heroine; we feel her frustrations in her attempts to understand Quixote's fixations that are so contrary to the reality: "It's All the Same", "What Does He Want of Me?", "Aldonza", and her eloquently simple acceptance of his esteem in "Dulcinea" carry the audience on her journey with complete credibility.

And, fittingly, Mr. Brown's engagement in the roles of Cervantes/Quixote are served up with aplomb. His powerful baritone is in good form in the taxing songs "Dulcinea" and "The Impossible Dream", but more importantly, his credibility as both the confident author and the naively idealistic knight and his generosity in sharing the stage with other actors, garners him well-deserved "bravos" from the audience.

There are some hard lessons to be learned here: Quixote's "impossible dream" affords some hope despite the incessant cruelty of the real world around him -- and us. If as Cervantes/Quixote claims that "good always triumphs", the path to goodness has a lot of obstacles along the way. Seeing and experiencing the world as it is -- the polar opposite of Quixote's fantasy -- can drive a person to madness, or perhaps to redemption.