By Tony Curulla
Courtesy of syracuse.com
The well-wrought tale of the Spanish poet Cervantes and his classic hero Don Quixote raises the questions, "What is madness and what is sanity"? and "Is Don Quixote the maddest wise man or the wisest mad man?
These and other questions are pondered in Hangar Theatre's exquisite production of Dale Wasserman's "Man of La Mancha," currently running at the newly-remodeled Ithaca venue.
Directed by Hangar's Artistic Director, Peter Flynn, the stage is awash in the trappings of the time of the Spanish Inquisition, evoking the time and tyranny when people were imprisoned, and punished, or even executed, without defense or trial, on questionable grounds of heresy against the Catholic Church.
The myriad of characters are garbed in realistic costumes, some in tatters, that show their stations and ultimate fates at the hands of the inquisitors. The replication of a realistic dungeon of blackened stone is so powerful to the senses that you can almost smell the must and mold, while one's ears are equally assaulted by the screeches and banging of the drawbridge-like staircase that descends into the dungeon at center stage, a harbinger of worse things to come.
Cervantes, actor, poet, and "dreamer" (Richard Todd Adams) is thrown into the dungeon on specious grounds with his footman, Sancho (Richard Ruiz), and given the chance to prove his "innocence" by enacting a series of scenes in which his hero, Don Quixote, demonstrates his righteousness as the "Knight of the Woeful Countenance". Thus, the bulk of the musical is composed of these enactments of fantasy, periodically interrupted by the lowering of the staircase, which jolts the actors (and the audience) back to reality, and the ever-present reminder of the inevitable fate that has befallen them.
Central to the action is the character of Aldonza (Natascia Diaz) who is renamed Dulcinea by Don Quixote. Her quick wit and duality of toughness and sensitivity is an actor's tightrope, however, Diaz is an embodiment of the role, and delivers a stunning performance.
Adams is equally adept in his portrait of Cervantes/Don Quixote, wavering, convincingly, between calculating poet/actor and somewhat befuddled, but well-intentioned knight. His expert, sonorous voice was particularly a performance centerpiece in his rendition of the show's signature number, "The Impossible Dream".
Devanand Janki's choreography is snappy and precise, particularly in the colorful gypsy scene, and reminiscent of suggestive movement, a la "West Side Story", in the scene wherein Aldonza is abducted and raped.
Other notable performances were William Ryall's ironically comic governor/innkeeper, Chris Reber's dead-on Padre, and Nik Walker's triple-role of Duke, Dr. Carrasco, and the Knight of the Mirrors which was as dark and intimidating as needed.
Details: Length of Performance: Two hours, 20 minutes, including a 15-minute intermis.
Attendance: Nearly-full house on opening night.
Family Guide: Not for young children. Contains graphic violence and realistic rape scene.
Hangar Theatre presents "Man of La Mancha", July 1-17, Cass Park, Ithaca. For tickets and information: (607) 273-4497 or www.hangartheatre.org