By Beverly Friend, Ph.D., Member American Theater Critics Assn; photos by Beth Laske-Miller.
So powerful is the image of Don Quixote, the hero of Cervantes’ 17th Century novel, that the word quixotic has been derived from his name. The definition is “foolishly impractical especially in the pursuit of ideals; marked by rash lofty romantic ideas or extravagantly chivalrous action.” However, this fails to capture fully the character of this famous fictional knight. If Don Quixote were only this and nothing more, he would not live on through literature. What he is, what he stands for, and the value of his view is universal, presented for all to see and enjoy in a marvelous production of Man of La Mancha, now at the Skokie Theater, staged by MadKap Productions (book by Dale Wasserman, lyrics by Joe Darion, and music by Mitch Leigh).
This musical unfolds as a play within a play. The outer frame tells of the author Cervantes (Sean Caron), in a dungeon, imprisoned by the Inquisition. Like Don Quixote, this Cervantes is imaginary. Here, attacked by fellow prisoners eager to steal his belongings, he requests and is granted a trial where he offers a defense in the form of a play. His character then evolves into an elderly gentleman who, imagining himself the chivalrous knight, Don Quixote, then sets out with his sidekick Sancho Panza (Victoria Oliver) on a quest to right the wrongs of the world.
The adventures of this “Knight of the Woeful Countenance” include mistaking a windmill for a giant, a shabby inn for a castle, and most important, a scullery maid for a princess. Aldonza (Rachel Carreras) may be her birth name but as the “Dulcinea” he calls her, she transcends outward reality for inward growth. Carreras is powerful in creating this transformation of her self-image.
One memorable scene, while brief, becomes a microcosm of the play. In an attempt to shock Don Quixote into recognizing reality — a group hold up mirrors so that wherever he looks, he sees his own reflection as a fool and lunatic. Actually, the whole play is itself a mirror of the reality of the world around us whether it be the world of the 17th century (when the book was written), or the 20th century, (when the musical was first produced), or the chaotic, untruthful world we inhabit now.
Pithy quotes and memorable lyrics lace the musical. As the Don says, “Too much sanity may be madness — and maddest of all: to see life as it is, and not as it should be!” And where is the courage “To be willing to march
into hell for a heavenly cause!”
While the title role has been played by many famous actors including Peter O’Toole (with voice dubbed in the movie), Hal Linden, and Robert Goulet, they can’t have surpassed Caron in performance or voice, powerfully singing such famous lyrics as
To dream the impossible dream,
To fight the unbeatable foe,
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go;
To right the unrightable wrong.
All the voices are sterling, and it adds another insightful layer to this multi-layered work to have women in some of the roles ordinarily played and sung by men: Olivier as Sancho and Margaret Garofalo as the Padre.
The stage may be small, but imagination is huge — as in the setting, choreography, and the construction of delightful frames to signify horse’s heads. And of course, there is the wonderful pleasure of live music played by a six-man band.
Kudos to two Jefferson Award Winners: Director Stephen Genovese and Costume designer Beth Laske-Miller and to Jeremy Hollis for his versatile set design.
Man of La Mancha is a MadKap Production playing at the Skokie Theater,
7924 Lincoln Ave, Downtown Skokie, until Sept 30, Performance times vary.
Check the website at www.Skokietheater.org. Find more information about
current plays on our Current Shows page and at theatreinchicago.com.