Monday, March 24, 2008

Man Of La Mancha

photo: Ruiz Photography

Two guitars and a lot of bucket-drumming: that's the musical accompaniment in this all-male version of the classic musical now re-set in a modern-day prison. The young performers bring off the musical numbers well enough under the circumstances (although "The Impossible Dream" must be excepted: that anthem loses a lot of power sung to just strummed chords) but the production's directorial conceit is ultimately too problematic: there is so much business to tell us that these prisoners are merely acting out Alonso's story of Don Quixote that we never get the room to become involved in it, and we have no clue as to why it is powerful and inspiring. More damagingly, there is much confusion when some of the events in Quixote's story happen not to the characters in the play within the play but to the prisoners. The goal may have been to heighten the danger in the material, to emphasize the high stakes by illustrating how the story Alonso enacts with the inmates has relevance to their plight, but the result makes for a narrative mess. (The friend I saw this with, who had somehow never seen any production of Man Of La Mancha before, didn't have any idea what was going on.) Still, for those who are already well acquainted with the material, there are moments when this bold re-imagining is fascinating in its audacity: I'll never be able to hear about that Golden Helmet Of Mambrino again without thinking of its "golden" moment in this production.

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