Editor’s Note: Dawn Reno Langley is a Durham, NC-based author who writes novels, poetry, children’s books, and nonfiction books on many subjects, as well as theater reviews. This is her first review for Triangle Theater Review and Triangle Arts & Entertainment.
Man of La Mancha, the 1965 Broadway musical based on the two-volume literary masterpiece The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha (El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha) (1605 and 1615), retells Spanish novelist Miguel de Cervantes’ story from the viewpoint of an anguished poet of the theater — Cervantes himself — imprisoned and awaiting trial by church and state during the Spanish Inquisition.
Cervantes’ empathy with his fictional protagonist, the mad country squire Alonso Quixana, and Quixana’s imagined alter ego, the swashbuckling knight errant Don Quixote, is as palpable on the stage as it is on the page. That is why the original Broadway production of Man of La Mancha, with music by Mitch Leigh, lyrics by Joe Darion, and book by Dale Wasserman, won five 1966 Tony Awards®, including Best Musical and Best Original Score.
The play-within-a-play, employed by Wasserman’s script, has become a more contemporary version onstage Feb. 2-19 at Raleigh, NC’s Burning Coal Theatre Company (Jerome Davis, artistic director). The one-act play requires the entire cast on stage throughout the whole performance, and encourages the audience to realize the Quixotic ideals de Cervantes espoused, without the distraction of historically accurate costumes or set design. Instead, this Man of La Mancha allows its actors the freedom to embody their characters in contemporary street clothes — sweat pants, T-shirts, comfortable shoes — rather than to work within the confines of tight bodices and suits of armor.
OBIE Award-winning theater artist Randolph Curtis Rand stars as Cervantes and the iconic Don Quixote/Alonso Quixana, smoothly segueing from the embattled poet of the theater facing the Inquisition to the crazed pseudo-knight with ease and aplomb. His face, voice, and angular body change in chameleon fashion as he slides from one character to the other. When Rand introduces himself to the audience in the first few seconds of the play, it is clear that he is an experienced actor, spending years on the stage in both New York and other venues. He sets the theme when describing the charges against Quixana (of “idealism and bad poetry”) and poetry and idealism resonate throughout the ensuing scenes.
A perfect foil for Rand’s tall and rangy Quixote is David Henderson’s sprightly and eternally optimistic Sancho Panza. Best known as Marley in Theatre in the Park‘s annual musical presentation of A Christmas Carol, a role he’s played for 17 years in Raleigh, Henderson’s interpretation of the character who truly supports and protects Quixote/Quixana is one of the highlights of the play. He moves like a leprechaun around the stiffly tall Quixote, peering up at the insanely romantic knight with a combination of reverence and patience; and when it comes time to defend his master/friend, there is no countenance on stage as compassionate as Sancho Panza’s.
But this play would not have any impact at all without a strong leading lady for the role of the lusty and heartbreaking Aldonza/Dulcinea. Yolanda W. Rabun provides just that through her portrayal of the misunderstood whore with a heart. Her sassy, tough, spot-on mezzo soprano is made more powerful and vulnerable when she sings out the side of her mouth and commands the stage with every roll of her hips. The chanteuse is a favorite of Raleigh audiences as an actress, dancer, and jazz singer.
The supporting cast is at times brilliant and, at other times, lackluster. As character actors, they often appear to try too hard, making their roles more caricature than character. In a small venue, such as the Burning Coal Theatre, there’s less of a need for large, across-the-footlights, over-the-top mannerisms and facial expressions; and seasoned actors can tone down those movements/expressions just enough to reach the audience within arm’s length.
Director Tea Alagić, a Bosnian native who has worked throughout the United States as well as Europe, is adept in delivering a sensitive story of a writer aware that if his audience isn’t initially moved by the narrative he delivers of the romantic Quixote and the changes the mad knight brings about in those he touches. She elicits both sympathy and laughter from the audience through skillful directing of her actors. During the last scene, it was evident that playgoers in the small theater were moved to tears and reminded of their own need for other human beings.
Man of La Mancha sensitively picks the threads of human kindness out of all of us, reminding us through its underlying themes that imagination is often reality, all people have both good and bad personality traits, and that we all tend to cover our pain with a crust designed for self-protection.
SECOND OPINION: Feb. 13th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Julie-Kate Cooper: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=5352 and Feb. 6th review by Spencer Powell: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=5343; Feb. 8th Durham, NC Independent Weekly review by Zack Smith (who awarded the show 3.5 of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/man-of-la-mancha/Content?oid=2794167; and Jan. 20th BroadwayWord.com preview of Lobby Lecture series by BWW News Desk: http://raleigh.broadwayworld.com/article/Lucy-Daniels-To-Speak-At-Burning-Coals-Man-of-La-Mancha-24-20120130. (Note: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the Feb. 2nd Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2012/02/brooklyn-ny-actor-randolph-curtis-rand-will-star-as-cervantesquixote-in-the-musical-man-of-la-mancha/.)
Burning Coal Theatre Company presents MAN OF LA MANCHA at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 9-11, 2 p.m. Feb. 12, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 16-18, and 2 p.m. Feb. 19 in Burning Coal Theatre at the Murphey School, 224 Polk St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27604.
TICKETS: $20 ($15 students, seniors 65+, and active-duty military personnel), except $10 Thursdays and $5 Student Rush Tickets (sold at the door, 5 minutes before curtain, to students with valid ID).
BOX OFFICE: 919-834-4001 or http://www.etix.com/.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-834-4001. SHOW: http://burningcoal.org/man-of-la-mancha/.
VIDEO PREVIEW: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3s41pbkZM9M.
STUDY GUIDE: http://www.bard.org/education/studyguides/Mancha/mancha.html (Utah Shakespeare Festival).
The Musical: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man_of_La_Mancha (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
The Director: http://www.teaalagic.com/ (official website).
Randolph Curtis Rand: http://www.randolphcurtisrand.com/ (official website).
Yolanda W. Rabun: http://www.yolandarabun.com/ (official website).
David Henderson: http://facebook.com/theatrescot (Facebook page).
Don Miguel de Cervantes y Saavedra: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miguel_de_Cervantes (Wikipedia).
Dawn Reno Langley is a Durham, NC-based author who writes novels, poetry, children’s books, and nonfiction books on many subjects, as well as theater reviews. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review. To start your FREE subscription to this newsletter, e-mail RobertM748@aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE TTR in the Subject: line.
To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Theater Review reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/.