Man of La Mancha
Reviewed by David Kashimba
Photo by Raina Chazankin

Anyone whose ever read The Adventures of Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes will never forget the colorful character who dreamed of a better world full of heroic knights who fight off giant monsters and protect the innocence of fair maidens. Even though the cruel world of reality is nothing like Don Quixote’s ideal world, it didn’t stop him from living the life of a gentleman knight in the world of his imagination. Though most of the world thought he was a crazy old man, there were a few, like his faithful companion Sancho Panza, who admired him for living the dream in spite of brutal reality.

Written by Dale Wasserman (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest), Man of La Mancha, now playing at Santa Rosa’s 6th Street Playhouse, focuses on Cervantes the writer. “I was aware, of course, that Don Quixote had been attempted for the theatre scores of times,” said Wasserman… “I was aware, too, that the attempts invariably failed. The reason was plain: trying to capture this work in dramatic form was much like attempting to force the sea into a bucket; ambitious but impractical. But what continued to haunt my thoughts was not the novel but the shadowy figure behind it.”

Indeed, Cervantes had more than his share of trauma. He was a soldier, suffered serious wounds at the battle of Lepanto (a key naval battle in which the forces of Christendom defeated the forces of Islam in 1571), was taken captive and spent five years as a slave in Africa. Author of some forty plays (all failures), Cervantes was excommunicated in 1597 for “offenses against His Majesty’s Most Catholic Church” and imprisoned off and on for various offenses.

Wasserman uses the darkness of Cervantes’ life by starting the musical with Cervantes being thrown into prison. When the prisoners go after him with a mock trial, Cervantes tells his story of a man who dared to dream the impossible dream. The prisoners are brought into the story by playing some of the characters in Don Quixote’s fictional life and for a brief time they are transported outside the confining realms of their desperate lives. The theme of the story, as well as the theme of the songs and music, walks this razor’s edge between the stark reality of the way things are and the dreamlike grace of the way we would like things to be.

Director Elly Lichenstein has assembled an excellent cast with some fantastic voices. William Neely, as Cervantes and Don Quixote, is well known in Bay Area musicals and operas, including performances with Petaluma’s Cinnabar Theater and North Bay Opera. Miguel Evangelista, as Sancho Panza, is a regular performer at Cinnabar operas and Bronwen Shears as Aldonza/Dulcinea has been performing and teaching in Sonoma County for years.

For tickets or more information call (707) 523-4185 or visit www.6thstreetplayhouse.com.

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