Sunday, July 5, 2015

Review: 'Man of La Mancha'

Act 2's small staging seeks intimacy but reduces the scope and power of this musical.

Review: ‘Man of La Mancha’

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Maria Konstantinidis and Peter Schmitz in 'Man of La Mancha' (photo: Bill D'Agostino)

By Jim Rutter

For THE INQUIRER

 

Can you imagine Don Quixote, Cervantes’ massive masterwork cut down to novella size? Writer Dale Wasserman did when he, lyricist Joe Darion and composer Mitch Leigh created their beloved Broadway musical Man of La Mancha, which won five Tony Awards in 1966.  

Picture La Mancha miniaturized even further, and you get a sense of the 105-minute intermission-less production running at Ambler’s Act 2 Playhouse.

Wasserman’s book takes a play-within-a-play approach to the story: the Inquisition has imprisoned Cervantes (Peter Schmitz) and his servant Sancho Panza (Sonny Leo) for putting a lien on a monastery. The other prisoners sneer at his idealism and put him through their own trial. In his defense, Cervantes dons make-up and a wig to become Quixote, and asks them to help reenact the latter’s tales of heroism and chivalry.

Act 2 attempted intimacy on its smallish stage, but the 10 cast members crammed into this production felt cramped throughout. Under James Leitner’s sharp lighting design, Maura Roche’s back wall and side-eaves set functions as tavern, dungeon, courtyard and gypsy camp, but the characters have little room to maneuver, let alone stage a five-person bar fight.

Schmitz gives a remarkable, well-acted performance, full of instantaneous turns from Cervantes to Quixote. But his thin baritone has served him much better in character roles elsewhere. Konstantinidis’ pretty voice beguiles as much as it frightens as the serving girl Aldonza that Quixote worships as his heroine Dulcinea.

The cast accompanies on guitar, tambourine, accordion, cello and a variety of instruments, and wearing Alisa Sickora Kleckner’s colorful, convincing costumes (cornered hats, swelling armor), each convinces in their roles as 17th Century barber, tavern keep, scholar or knight.

But under Aaron Cromie’s rushed, humorless direction, this production never convinces as epic or musical, but more like a play with songs here and there, most of them rushed through, and none used to develop any emotional depth.

In this miniaturized staging, only Aldonza’s and Quixote’s storyline shined through, which may have amplified the show’s redemptive theme, but limited the force of its telling.

Man of La Mancha. Playing through June 8 at Act 2 Playhouse, 56 E. Butler Ave. Ambler. Tickets: $33 to $39. Information: 215-654-0200 or act2.org

 

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."


Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.


Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.


Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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