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Man of La Mancha On Stage at Roger Rockas

IN THE September 28 ISSUE

FROM THE 2019 Articles,
andTerrance V. Mc Arthur,
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by Terrance Mc Arthur

If you have an “Impossible Dream” (and even if you don’t), you should go to Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theatre to see the Good Company Players’ production of Man of La Mancha.

Miguel de Cervantes wrote The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of la Mancha. Published in two parts (1605 & 1615), it is considered a foundation of Western Literature. Parts of it are entangled in the world memory: tilting at windmills, “They Might Be Giants,” the word quixotic. At a museum in Monterey, I recently saw an amazing bronze relief of Don Quixote made by Salvador Dali.

It’s 1597. Miguel de Cervantes (Chris Mangels) is in prison in Seville, Spain, with his servant (Miguel Molinar). Forced by the inmates to bargain for his belongings by way of a trial, he pleads for his manuscript with an entertainment peopled by his fellow prisoners—the tale of a man who does not see the world as it is, but as it ought to be if the stories he’s read were true: Alonso Quijana, who becomes Don Quixote. Styling himself a knight errant, he sees windmills as giants, inns as castles, and the low-class serving girl Aldonza (Amalie Larsen) as a noble lady he calls Dulcinea. As word of his antics reaches his niece (Ariana Morris), she fears his lunacy might jeopardize her engagement to a doctor (Joseph Ham), who plans to bring the madman forcibly back into reality.

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Cast of GCP’s production of “Man of La Mancha”

Mangels is tall, gaunt, looks like a tired Hugh “House” Laurie until he starts his play-within-a-play. Then there is fire in his eyes, a glow to his face, and a faith in the goodness of the world. His singing voice is commanding, and I was crying during his first song, “I, Don Quixote.” By the last chorus of “The Impossible Dream,” I was a basket case, and I was grateful for the thick cloth napkins at the Dinner Theatre. Even changing his make-up onstage to become his imaginary character, he gets attention and focus, because he earns it.

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Miguel de Cervantes/Don Quixote/Alonso Quijana (Chris Mangels)

Larsen has a clear, trained voice, but here she underlies it with the world-weary disgust of a woman of the streets. Aldonza never met a man who wouldn’t pay her for what she had, and meeting Quixote is a shock for her, a man who gives adoration and asks for nothing. When she tries to live the optimistic life, she is savagely attacked. Larsen gives you the cynic, the optimist, the disillusioned, and the (ultimately) hopeful. What a ride!

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Sancho Panza (Miguel Molinar), Don Quixotic (Chris Mangels) and Aldonza (Amalie Larsen)

At first, I thought Molinar would be too young for the part of Quixote’s manservant/friend/occasional paramedic, but his cheerful countenance and bubbly attitude brings a delightful effervescence to the role. He seems surprised at how much fun he’s having as he follows his master into every disaster.

Ham, garbed in black except for one blinding moment, is the spokesman for the real world. Chosen as the prisoner-prosecutor for Cervantes’ trial, and portraying the learned fiancé of the story, he is dour, sour, and glowering, a brooding presence in scenes where he is not a participant. Someone has to represent reason, even when it isn’t wanted; he is a worthy opponent for both Cervantes and Quixote.

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Duke/Prisoner/Dr. Sanson Carrasco (Joseph Ham) and Don Quixote (Chris Mangels)

Don Gaede, as the “Governor,” the de facto leader of the prisoners, and the innkeeper in the world of Quixote, is reminiscent of Roy Dotrice (“Father” in the old Beauty and the Beast TV series). As the innkeeper, he goes along with the delusions of the old man; as the prisoner boss, he is practical, and willing to have a change in the dreary routine. He throws himself gleefully into the “Knight of the Woeful Countenance” number, building from confusion to joyful enthusiasm.

Morris merits praise as the self-centered niece, Thomas Hayes is entertaining as the priest who sees through the pretensions of the people who claim they are only thinking of Quijana (And OH! What a voice!), Daniel Sutherland makes for a most menacing muleteer, and Maria Monreal and Malinda Asbury become sprightly steeds with the help of Paul “Wireboy Inc.” Parichan’s amazing headpiece masks (Monreal is also alluring when she undulates as a Moorish dancer). The live, onstage guitarists (Richard Nielson, Kelly Nielson, and Dorie Hibinada) wonderfully add to the atmosphere and strengthen the intimacy and immediacy of the show.

Horse (Maria Monreal), Don Quixote (Chris Mangels), Sancho (Miguel Molinar), and Horse (Malinda Asbury)

Julie Lucido’s direction is a triumph of juggling characters and creating theatrical moments. Ginger Kay Lewis Reed’s costumes make the cast look like they’ve been in prison for years…except when they’re not supposed to. Vocal coach Judith Dickison works her usual magic; the harmonies are incredible. David Pierce’s set is forbidding, with levels and recesses that conceal and reveal characters.

I have seen Man of La Mancha before. It was a nice show. This production lifts the soul, tears out the heartstrings, and makes you want to see it again…and again. You have until November 10 to see it. Take advantage of the opportunity. Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater is at 1226 N. Wishon at Olive Ave. Tickets can be purchased on their website or by calling the box office at (559) 266-9494.

Keep dreaming, even when it seems impossible.

If you love local theatre, be sure to check out Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast, which features mysteries read by local actors. You can also find the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Play, and also on podbean. New episode went up this week with a story told by a black cat-perfect for Halloween!

Check out more theatre reviews & other local entertainment articles in our Arts & Entertainment section.

Terrance V. Mc Arthur is a California-born, Valley-raised librarian/entertainer/writer. He is a librarian with Fresno County Public Library.

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