Man of La Mancha – Stratford 2014

The Burden of Sanity

In keeping with the theme of madness, Stratford Festival is offering two shows where the main character has dementia.  King Lear is about the dark side of dementia, where the sufferer slips in and out of reality, frustrated, angry and hopeless.  The polar opposite, Don Quixote is quite happy in his dementia.  While he may be living in his own imagination, he is delighted to be living the dream. Don Quixote, the Man of La Mancha, avoids logic and remains the eternal optimist:  no dream is impossible.

“Man of La Mancha” is a play within a play. It starts with the story of Miguel de Cervantes, a poet of note in the 16th century, quite possibly Spain’s Shakespeare. Cervantes and his loyal servant are thrown into prison and charged to appear before the Inquisition. But their fellow prisoners want to put them through their own so-called court first, in order to rob them of their possessions. To distract the prisoners, Cervantes offers to put on a play for them. So he tells the story of Alonso Quijana, an elderly landowner who, in his old age, is suffering dementia. He believes he is a knight is shining armour named Don Quixote, but in fact, that armour is rusty and dull.

The deluded Don Quixote and his sidekick Sancho, played by Cervantes’ faithful servant, set forth to right all wrongs. And while the man is obviously crazy, his optimism is quite charming and their adventures provide the play’s comedy. The elderly Quixote has trouble with his vision – he thinks he’s attacking the enemy when he’s really jousting at windmills. A barber’s shaving bowl becomes a much-coveted golden helmet. And when he meets Aldonza, the rough and weary local prostitute, he views her as his beloved, virginal, fair maiden. When Aldonza throws her dirty dishrag at Sancho, Don Quixote sees it as a “gossamer” token of her affection.

Man of LaMancha Robin HuttonTom Rooney handles all three parts very well:  He is the young Cervantes, trying to protect his poetry from the inmates, then he slips into character as Alonso Quijana who becomes Don Quixote.   He sings the showstopper “The Impossible Dream” with passion.

Robin Hutton is the perfect Aldonza/Dulcinea.  She is the gritty, hardened worker at the inn, forced to prostitute herself. As Aldonza, she screams in frustration that Quixote believes she’s a “lady”, belting that she was “Born on a dung heap to die on a dung heap”.  But Don Quixote insists she is the beautiful lady, Dulcinea, and later, she sings the reprise of Dulcinea in a beautiful, sweet voice.

Steve Ross is engaging as the sidekick of both Cervantes and Quixote.  He provides some of the comedy, going along with his master’s antics.

The ensemble is strong – the fight scenes are carefully choreographed, the singing is powerful.  The final reprise of The Impossible Dream (also called The Quest) is a rousing and heart felt anthem.

The large common area of the prison is, of course, the set for the entire show.  Taking away some of the drabness of the jail, a huge windmill turns quietly in the background:  Just a reminder that it’s ok to be jousting at windmills.

Much can be learned from the Man of La Mancha. The story points out that Don Quixote is not “burdened by sanity”. In fact, his optimism is refreshing.  Maybe we should all be a little bit crazy.

Man of La Mancha continues in repertoire until October 11 at the Avon Theatre, Stratford.  Tickets are available at the Stratford Festival at 1-800-567-1600, or check www.stratfordfestival.ca

Photo:  Robin Hutton as Aldonza in Man of La Mancha. Photo by Michael Cooper.

Man of La Mancha
By Dale Wasserman
Music by Mitch Leigh, Lyrics by Joe Darion
Direct by Robert McQueen
Choreographed by Marc Kimelman
Musical direction by Franklin Brasz
Avon Theatre, Stratford
May 29 to October 11, 2014
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

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