Review: ‘Man of La Mancha’ by Compass Rose Theater

Compass Rose Theater’s production of Man of La Mancha is an entertaining, colorful show in an unusual location. While the theater is looking for a permanent home, they are performing the classic 1965 musical in a meeting room on the Hotel Annapolis (formerly Loews Hotel) grounds. With book by Dale Wasserman, music by Mitch Leigh, and lyrics by Joe Darion, this production, directed by Lucinda Merry-Browne, makes creative use of the space with lots of humor, but also much to say about friendship, loyalty, and courage.

Patrick Gerard Lynch as Don Quixote in Compass Rose Theater's production of 'Man of La Mancha.' Photo by Stan Barouh.
Patrick Gerard Lynch as Don Quixote in Compass Rose Theater’s production of ‘Man of La Mancha.’ Photo by Stan Barouh.

Patrick Gerard Lynch dominates the stage as Cervantes and Don Quixote. Having crossed the Inquisition, Cervantes finds himself in prison, facing the scorn of his fellow inmates. To defend himself, he tells the story of Don Quixote, assigning characters to other prisoners and directing them in his own drama. As Cervantes, Lynch is quick on his feet, deftly managing the twists and turn of the plot. As Don Quixote, he radiates charisma, nobility, and dignity. He fills “Man of La Mancha,” the first song, with passion, walking across the stage in his knightly garb. Fully believing in his noble quest, he leaps offstage to fight giants disguised as windmills, stumbling back with a broken lance. He makes “The Impossible Dream” a glorious song of hope and reaching after glory. On first seeing Aldonza (Elizabeth Hester), he falls to his knees and reverently looks away, singing “Dulcinea” with heartfelt love. He frequently kneels in prayer and thoughtfulness.

Brendan Michael gives a humorous loyalty to Sancho Panza, Quixote’s squire and friend. He eagerly follows his master’s ideas, giving them a comic twist at times. He announces their arrival to the “castle” (inn) with a bugle that sounds like a kazoo. Reciting Quixote’s missive to Aldonza, he speaks it proudly, explaining to her what a “token” is. In “I Really Like Him” he struggles to explain why he follows Quixote, except out of friendship. In “A Little Gossip” he comically relates what’s happened to him since their quest ended. Even after voicing his concerns about going with the gypsies, he still follows Quixote, carrying him back after being robbed.

Elizabeth Hester plays Aldonza with fierceness. She sings “It’s All the Same” with cynical roughness as she shoves away the inn’s other guests, kneeing one of them in the groin. Perplexed by Quixote’s “Dulcinea” she pushes him aside. She makes “What Does He Want of Me?” a heartfelt question, trying to understand this strange man. She holds her own in the fight scene with Quixote and Sancho, knocking out guests. She picks herself up after her assault and limps off. She fills “Aldonza” with anger and betrayal, forcing Quixote to look at her. Her reprise of “Dulcinea” at the end is touching and lovely, as she proudly announces “My name is Dulcinea!”

Michael Ferlita plays the Padre with noble compassion, ironic given that he also plays the prison’s prosecutor, determined to find Cervantes guilty. He brings “To Each His Dulcinea” a sweet, touching tribute to Quixote’s passion. He sings “The Psalm” at the end filled with anguish. Joe Hanson gives the Innkeeper a quick wit. He plays along with Quixote’s delusions, comically knighting him “Knight of the Woeful Countenance” after Quixote brings him back several times with reminders of the proper ceremony. As Dr. Carasco, Hanson scowls at Quixote’s antics and is determined to cure him, no matter the tremendous pain it brings to the knight. Claire Gallagher and Rebecca Dreyfuss bring comedy to Antonia and the Housekeeper, singing of their own concerns in “I’m Only Thinking of Him.” As gypsies, their “Moorish Dance” is highly flirtatious, leading Quixote offstage.

The set, designed by Lucinda Merry-Browne, keeps with the idea of the musical. Small black stools are scattered around the stage. In the center, towards the back, is a long black platform with stairs, while smaller black platforms lie throughout. Baskets and bins with clothes and other props are on the edges of the stage. A guitar and sword are off to the right.

Costume Designer Caitlin Martinez has created colorful outfits that help identify the characters. Cervantes wears a black leather vest, white ruffled shirt, and blue and white striped pants. Don Quixote has a gold breastplate and gold helmet, with a lance. Sancho wears a red shirt, gray poncho, and a purple cap. Aldonza has an orange and white dress. The governor has a green poncho, while as the Innkeeper, he wears a black shirt and an apron. Two female characters wear horse masks over their faces as Quixote and Sancho’s horses.

Brendan Michael as Sancho Panza and Patrick Gerard Lynch as Don Quixote in Compass Rose Theater's production of 'Man of La Mancha.' Photo by Stan Barouh.
Brendan Michael as Sancho Panza and Patrick Gerard Lynch as Don Quixote in Compass Rose Theater’s production of ‘Man of La Mancha.’ Photo by Stan Barouh.

Lighting Designer Marianne Meadows uses light cleverly to help indicate the different locations of the musical. The Inquisition prison is bathed in purple light from footlights at the back of the stage, while lights in the front and to the side shine on Don Quixote’s quest. During his vigil, a spotlight illuminates him. In the fight scenes, red light comes from the footlights. With the Knight of the Mirrors, a strange green light covers the stage.

Musical Director Anita O’Connor conducts the music perfectly, with Accompanist Sangah Purinton performing it from a piano just offstage. Purinton plays the music clearly, never letting it overpower the performers’ singing. A drum from behind the stage pounds at crucial moments, adding tension.

Lucinda Merry-Browne does a wonderful job as Director. The actors navigate the stage and each other easily. They sing with energy and passion, with excellent comic timing while also hitting the more emotional parts. Everything comes together for a fun evening with plenty to think about afterwards. Compass Rose proves that great theater can be performed anywhere. Be sure to catch it!

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.

Man of La Mancha plays through March 31, 2019, at the Power House Building, Hotel Annapolis – 126 West Street, Annapolis, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-980-6662 or purchase them online.