July 7, 2011 —
Words to live by—and yet, I gave it a pretty good shot during the last week, bitchin’ up a storm. The endless rain worked my nerves, in conjunction with the still-aching rib, and I allowed the weather to make me a bit crazy. The intermittent showers had me a little “scattered” as I rearranged plans constantly and experienced some minor difficulties going with the flow.
I insisted that the weather was responsible for my bad mood and told everyone within earshot that it was driving me ‘round the bend—but of course, I kept driving. The clouds parted briefly as I heaved myself into the truck (complaining), keeping my eyes peeled for deer (they’re everywhere!) and made my way through the drizzle toward Forestburgh (FBplayhouse.org) to check out “Man of La Mancha” at the Forestburgh Playhouse (FBP).
I hadn’t seen the show in years, but it all came back to me as I settled in to let the musical, written by Dale Wasserman (with music and lyrics by Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion) wash over the audience and transport us to a time when crazy was a way of life. Based on the Cervantes story of “Don Quixote,” La Mancha is one of those shows that focuses on a particularly ugly time in history (in this case, the Spanish Inquisition) and adds music to make it seem somehow more palatable (think “Les Miz” or “Evita”).
I’m not sure that this is a bad way to study history, albeit a little gussied up. I invited a teenager to join me, along with her parents, and discovered that none of them were familiar with the story. Until that moment, I was under the impression that “Don Quixote” was required reading in school, but for something completely different, I was wrong. Call me crazy.
The show itself was beautiful to look at. Director Edward Juvier had (IMHO) a firm grasp on reality when working with scenic designer Tim Bariaux, who created an atmosphere that drew me in to the dreamy world that the characters inhabit. The costumes and lighting (by Ashleigh Poteat and Michael O’Connor, respectively) further enhanced the production, although the boys appeared much filthier than the girls. They all share a dungeon prison, but it seemed as if the ladies had access to showers and laundry facilities that the men were unaware of.
Cleanliness aside, I was, for the most part, drawn in to Quixote’s world, where insanity seems like a good option. Faced with a reality that is difficult to comprehend, the title character, played to the hilt by Kevin Loreque, chooses dementia (“either the wisest madman or the maddest wiseman in the world”) to aid himself and his sidekick, Sancho Panza (the incomparable Jim Bray), in dealing with the harsh reality of man’s inhumanity to man. Bray, now in his fourth season at the FBP, is the King Midas of the theatre, since it would seem that whatever he touches turns to comic gold.
Inherent to this version of the story is the music and most people immediately think of Don Quixote’s mantra, “The Impossible Dream.” Admittedly, it is probably the most memorable tune, with the possible exception of “Aldonza’s Song” but in this production, I was thrilled to observe the on-stage presence of one of Forestburgh’s unsung heroes: the wildly talented guitarist, Coyote Anderson (www.myspace.com/jamesandersonakacoyote ). A native of the region, Anderson spends most of his time in New York City honing his (already extremely well honed) craft, and the program informs that he “sets aside time each summer to come back to the Catskills and rock out at the playhouse.”
Coyote’s expertise with the instrument really enhanced this production, and I imagine that Pilar Milhollen (Aldonza), Ronald King (The Governor), Alexander Pimentel (The Padre) and the rest of the cast were as grateful as I that he was on stage throughout the entire show. Is it crazy that this was a highlight for me? Maybe, but it was only seeing the show after lo these many years, that I realized one of the reasons we leave the theatre humming “The Impossible Dream” is that it is reprised over and over until it becomes impossible to forget.
My teenage guest “didn’t get it” and that gave me pause. Is the show really as good as the hype, or are there one or two really good songs wrapped around a beautifully illustrated production? Either way, I’m still crazy for an evening of theatre and not sure that when push comes to shove, insanity isn’t a viable option when confronted with the alternative.