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