May 2, 2003


Man of La Mancha

reviewed by
Lynn Trenning











For more about Lynn Trenning, please visit her main page.

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Theatre Charlotte’s Man of La Mancha provides an alternative to the gloom and doom philosophy that pervades the nightly news. It is a tale that rises above the squalor of a 16th century Spanish prison, where Cervantes awaits trial during the Inquisition. The five time Tony Award winning play merges the story of Miguel de Cervantes with that of his most famous character, the delusional Alonso Quijana, AKA Don Quixote.

Written by Dale Wasserman and first produced during the tumultuous 1960s, Man of La Mancha illustrates how willing we are to believe in men who live the conviction of their dreams. It also challenges us to step outside the definitions randomly assigned by life. Mitch Leigh’s music and Joe Darion’s lyrics treat delusion as a rare gift that allows the afflicted to see beauty amidst squalor. In theory Don Quixote can appear ridiculous. But Man of La Mancha elevates Quixote to represent man’s aspiration to be better, and achieves this with humor and bearable sentimentality.

Don Quixote is played by transplanted New Yorker James Kidd, a tall man with enormous charm. He brings a sweet innocence to Don Quixote’s insanity. I believe that he believes that he is a knight in his heart, and that a windmill is an evil enchanter. "To the untrained eye, one thing may seem to be another," he instructs his loyal manservant Sancho Panza, played with fine comic timing and physical sprightliness by Stan Peal. Upon falling in love with the wretched tavern prostitute Aldonza, played by Lisa Smith, Quixote renames her Dulcinea, and declares "I see the woman each man sees secretly in his heart."

The stage is too small to contain the breadth of Quixote’s dreams, a fact that limits the effectiveness of fight scenes as well as the illusion of a journey. The five piece on-stage orchestra does the cast a favor by lifting their voices beyond their natural ability. The set changes are innovatively implemented by Quixote’s simple requests, "May we have a church please? May we have a kitchen please?"

Life is full of vulgar reality and impossible romance. In Man of La Mancha the indominatable human spirit overcomes the horror of reality. When asked what he is doing as Quixote’s manservant, Panza replies, "He fights, and I pick him up off the ground." Wouldn’t we all like someone to play that role in our lives?

Lynn Trenning, May 2, 2003

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