Man of La Mancha: a timely, joyful lament

Theater Latté Da, through October 22

Martín Solá and Meghan Kreidler in Man of La Mancha. Photo by Allen Weeks

The promise of a better life motivates us all—as we seek to improve our circumstances and sense of personal meaning. Dale Wasserman‘s classic musical Man of La Mancha tells the timeless tale of Don Quixote, a man who heroically seeks betterment by shedding the impediments of reality and escaping into delusional adventure. It is an absurd story in many ways, but also offers a glimpse into the joy that accompanies hope.

The setup is simple: an eccentric poet by the name of Miguel de Cervantes (Don Quixote’s author) awaits his fate in a prison and is forced to entertain his fellow prisoners with the strange tale of Alonso Quijanoa, a senile man who has come to believe he is Don Quixote, a knight in waiting who must prove his valor by fighting imaginary beasts and wooing invented ladies of high standing.

Originally staged with characters awaiting their fate in the Spanish Inquisition, director Peter Rothstein‘s production (Theatre Latté Da performing at The Ritz through October 22nd) swaps in a current prison setting, with props and characters indicating a waiting room for immigration enforcement. It is a boldly relevant statement—and it works. Don Quixote’s impossible dream drives him, and it is the analogous American Dream that drives those seeking citizenship, creating amity with Quixote’s futile optimism.

Man of La Mancha is delivered with utmost creativity and skill from the cast and crew. Mitch Leigh’s music and Joe Darion’s lyrics soar in well-blended harmonies under Denise Prosek’s musical direction, Rich Hamson’s playful costumes quickly establish character quirks, and Marcus Dilliard’s lighting design transports us to fantastical settings despite the ever-present prison backdrop. Michael Hoover’s simple, industrial set design fits nicely with Rothstein’s vision, constantly serving as a reminder of the gravitas girding this story.

The actors deliver an impressive range of emotion, all portraying multiple characters. The principals are all strong, but Martin Solá is a revelation as Cervantes, Quijanoa, and Quixote, injecting unique characterization and depth into each persona. His vocals are outstanding as well, providing an electric rendition of the standard “Dream the Impossible Dream.” And although she had difficulty in the highest ranges of her songs, Meghan Kreidler is arresting as Aldonza, exuding emotional intensity under the weight of her character’s tough shell.

It must be said that while this production is exemplary, Man of La Mancha itself is clunky, with an episodic structure that sputters from one scene to the next instead of building momentum. Further, the show has a difficult time walking the fine line between commending Don Quixote’s idealism and cautioning against his delusions—especially tricky since his moral purity makes us yearn for his hallucinations to be reality.

That said, Quixote’s tale is a show within this show, and the narrator Cervantes is aiming not only to entertain and inspire his fellow prisoners in the face of oppression, but also to lament the loss of a dream proven very much impossible. Man of La Mancha‘s messiness is reasonable in light of these complex aims, for so is concurrently acknowledging the despairs of reality and the undeniable utility of hope, something this production valiantly achieves.

David and Chelsea Berglund review movies on their site Movie Matrimony.

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