A night for believing in the impossible
BEAVER CREEK – It was deep into the reprise of “The Impossible Dream,” near the end of the show “Man of La Mancha,” that I began to feel sorry that Don Quixote’s illusion had broken, albeit briefly. Although it’s silly to believe you’re a chivalrous knight, fight windmills and mistake an inn for a castle at a time when the dark ages had long ended, there’s something endearing and sometimes naive about Don Quixote’s insistence in seeing treasure where there’s trash. “The true madness is to see life as it is and not how it ought to be,” says Don Miguel de Cervantes, the author of the novel the show is based on. The Vail Valley Theatre Company’s summer production, which features local residents, got off to a slow start, but it picked up with showier tunes as the audience became more emotionally invested in the characters. The musical-within-a-play was well-attended and received a standing ovation on its second and last night at the Vilar Center in Beaver Creek. The show begins with 16th-century Spanish Inquisition guards throwing Cervantes into the dungeon, where prisoners await trial. The prisoners immediately jump on Cervantes after the guards leave, go through his things and then put him on trial themselves. “But what have I done?” Cervantes asks.
“We’ll find something,” one of the prisoners replies. They charge him for being an idealist, a bad poet and an honest man. Cervantes, a writer and government tax collector, wound up in prison because he foreclosed on the monastery after it didn’t pay taxes. His sidekick got in trouble for tacking the notice on the door. One prisoner, who finds Cervantes’ manuscript “Don Quixote,” threatens to throw it into the fire after Cervantes admits guilt to the three charges, but Cervantes convinces him to let him act out the musical as his defense. Cervantes spins his story, handing out costumes and props from his huge chest to the prisoners, thereby drawing them into the action. He introduces the bumbling character he plays, Alonzo Quijana, who goes crazy from reading so many books in his retirement. “After so much brooding, his brain dries up,” Cervantes says. Quijana starts to think he’s a knight errant named Don Quixote, although knights disappeared 300 years ago. He believes he must “sally forth into the world to right all wrongs.”Strong vocals, endearing actors
Although the character Don Quixote seems foolish at first, actor Lance Schober succeeds in wooing the audience to fall for the idealistic “knight.” With a silver wig, mustache and goatee and an older-sounding British voice, the young actor transforms himself into a kooky old man who wears rusted armor.The first adventure Don Quixote has falls short because the windmill he mistakes for a dark and dreaded ogre is portrayed by a simple, spinning light design that is not a great representation. Actor Robert Wagner plays Sancho Panza, the sidekick, in an appropriately goofy manner, but sometimes he seems a bit upstaged by Schober. However, that may be a symptom of the role Sancho Panza plays as Don Quixote’s shadow. Wagner really shines in “The Missive” and “I Really Like Him,” when he delivers Don Quixote’s love letter to Aldonza, a prostitute/chambermaid whom the crazy “knight” insists on calling Dulcinea. “A knight without a lady is like a body without a soul,” Don Quixote says to Sancho Panza. Since neither Aldonza nor Sancho Panza can read, Sancho Panza recites the letter to her from memory, using expressive gestures and vocal tones. Charis Patterson, as Aldonza, has strong pipes that suit her spit-fire attitude and sultry looks. Aldonza is stubborn in not believing Don Quixote’s confessions of pure, chaste love.
“The world is a dung heap and we are maggots that crawl on it,” Aldonza says to him. She, like the audience, eventually succumbs to his talk of virtue and nobility. Another of the cast’s strongest singers is Sean Pack, who plays the Padre, a Roman Catholic priest. Pack sings a haunting eulogy after Don Quixote dies.The dark dungeonThe show’s set is simple, featuring a painted backdrop of the musty dungeon’s blue-gray stone wall and barred windows. Before the play begins, the lighting imaginatively creates the illusion of sunlight reflected on the dungeon’s floor. There’s a fire, surrounded by gray stones, that burns throughout the show at stage left and a stoned well at stage right, which Aldonza uses to hydrate Don Quixote’s horses. A raised platform serves as the entrance from which the royal guards enter and exit with cowering prisoners.
Two iron grates are propped on the sides of the steps to the platform to create the confessional where Alonzo Quijana’s niece and housekeeper sing their worries about their oddball uncle to the Padre.Musicians Britt Herrington and Jason Alligood stay hidden away in the orchestra pit, playing percussion and the piano. Near the end of the show, when Cervantes is called to his real trial in the Inquisition, one of the prisoners says, “Plead as well there as you do here, and you may not burn.”Nic Corbett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgVail, Colorado
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