‘Man of La Mancha’ at Aldersgate Church Community Theater by Julia L. Exline

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FOUR AND A HALF STARS
Aldersgate Church Community Theater presents Man of La Mancha, a Tony Award-winning musical version of Miguel de Cervantes’ beloved classic Don Quixote. With Book by Dale Wasserman, Lyrics by Joe Darion, and Music by Mitch Leigh, Man of La Mancha provides an evening of thrilling adventures set to exciting musical numbers! An extensive and highly involved plot make this production an ambitious feat; one which Director Madalaine Vander-Linden and Musical Director Jeff Taylor deliver with great success.

Don Quixote (Dick Reed), Sancho (Bob Maurer), and horses: (Shelagh Roberts and Christine Tankersley). Photo by Howard Soroos.
Don Quixote (Dick Reed), Sancho (Bob Maurer), and horses (Shelagh Roberts and Christine Tankersley). Photo by Howard Soroos.

As all action takes place in one setting—the dungeon of the Spanish Inquisition—the set is elaborately detailed, with multiple landings for the actors to utilize, alongside barred windows and an ominous draw-bridge door. Designed by Jon Poole, constructed by Stuart Travis, and painted by Robert Vander-Linden, the cobwebbed stone chamber is a dark and eerie place, made only creepier by the dim, dreary lighting designed by Chris Hardy. As the audience settles in, half-crazed prisoners amble about the theater space, muttering to themselves, laughing randomly, and pounding on things in frustration. They are dressed in loose-fitting, plain clothing by Costumer Georgia Harlow, whose late 16th Century influence is better seen in characters of higher stature, who are dressed in richer colors and finer fabrics. The tension-filled atmosphere is done well, making it entirely believable when the first punch is thrown well before the first line is delivered.

The style of this production is a play-within-a-play, centered around the newly imprisoned Miguel de Cervantes, (Dick Reed). Cervantes, a playwright, poet, and actor, has been accused alongside his faithful Manservant (the goofy Bob Maurer) of presenting idealistic ideas which go against the Inquisition through his work. Cervantes character, learned and gentlemanly, proves to be a stark contrast amongst the rougher prisoners…so naturally, they gang up on him. While Cervantes awaits his official trial, the prisoners, lead by the Governor (Mike Walker), create their own mock trial for him for their own amusement. If found guilty by his fellow inmates (which, given their biased attitude, will most certainly happen), they will rob him of all of his possessions, including a prized manuscript. Desperate to save his work, Cervantes proposes a unique defense in the form of a play, which he hopes will prove that idealism is not dangerous (and really, just distract them while he waits).

Thus begins the story of Don Quixote, played by Cervantes himself, in a song called “Man of La Mancha.” Quixote is really a nobleman named Alonso Quijana, who after seemingly gone mad and inspired by tales of knights and chivalry, re-christened himself as Quixote and set out for a noble quest, much to the dismay and embarrassment of his family and friends in the song, “I’m Only Thinking of Him.” Cervante’s Manservant takes on the role as Quixote’s sidekick Sancho Paza, and other roles are given to fellow prisoners as the play develops.  After challenging a windmill (to him, a dangerous challenger) to a duel and taking lodging in a dicey inn (I mean, “castle,”) Quixote comes across the bawdry kitchen wench Aldonza (Christine Condo), who he immediately sees as a perfect, pristine lady. In the particularly entertaining song “Dulcinea,”Quixote sweetly serenades his new love as she bustles about the kitchen, cleaning in the most unladylike manner possible.

Accustomed to the unpleasant and pushy advances of the men around her (including Michael Page in a fantastic performance of the callous Pedro), Aldonza does not know what to make of Quixote’s gentlemanly behavior in the song, “What Does He Want of Me?” Beaten by life, circumstance, and by men (literally, in a scene that can be uncomfortable to watch), Aldonza is a miserable soul who is unflinching in her negativity. Quixote tells her of his adventurous quest in the crowd favorite “The Impossible Dream,” and Aldonza begs him to see her as she really is in the powerful song “Aldonza.” Will Quixote be able to persuade her that there are things in life worthy of dreams, or will she, like everyone else, be convinced of his insanity? Also, how will Cervantes himself fare in this seemingly hopeless situation?

Dick Reed and Christine Condo have great chemistry together, and both give great performances that are complimented by strong vocals. While the entire cast works well together, some of the singing voices in the supporting cast could use some polishing. Despite this, the show was highly entertaining. Choreographer Michael Page does a fine job bringing his visions to the stage, especially with various fight scenes.

Dubbing of Don Quixote: Bob Maurer, Christine Condor, Dick Reed, and Mike Walker. Photo by Howard Soroos.
Dubbing of Don Quixote: Bob Maurer, Christine Condor, Dick Reed, and Mike Walker. Photo by Howard Soroos.

A lot of adventure is packed into two hours, and it was a real treat to watch.

I highly recommend Man of La Mancha for or an evening of thought-provoking, enjoyable entertainment!

Running Time: Approximately two hours, plus one 15-minute intermission.

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Man of La Mancha plays through July 7, 2013 at Aldersgate Church Community Theater at Aldersgate United Methodist Church – 1301 Collingwood Road, in Alexandria. VA. Order your tickets online.