Truly engaging theater draws the audience in and makes them forget that they are sitting in uncomfortable seats, watching a play. The players within the play do this for the onstage audience, and the entire ensemble helps to weave this spell for those of us just a little further out. Clever staging by director Marnie Herzfeld angles the action in a diamond rather than a box making maximum use of the space and placing the players in the heart of the room. With its powerful songs, flowing presentation, and talented cast, MAN OF LA MANCHA will draw you in and hold you until the last moment.
The premise of the story is that the action begins in a holding cell for the Spanish Inquisition. The accused are huddled in the back corner dreading their summons when a new prisoner arrives. The new arrival is poet Miguel de Cervantes/Don Quixote/Alonso Quijana (Carey Rumpf) accompanied by his loyal retainer/friend/squire Sancho Panza (Brian Schwartz). When asked to defend himself to his ‘peers’, he instead spins the tale of Don Quixote.
The modestly sized theater is perfect for Rumpf as it maximizes the impact of the actor’s expressive face and eyes. In order for Cervantes’ tale to transport viewers out of the prison and into the action, he has to captivate his audience. He does. The songs he sings are flawlessly presented and his escapist fare weaves its magic. Clearly Sancho Panza would follow his liege anywhere, and Schwartz pulls off both his comic nature and his loyalty 100%. Less easy to persuade is Aldonza (Nicole Napolitano) though even she eventually succumbs. Napolitano’s initial songs are full of suspicion and blunt reality and she delivers them with a punch. When she is eventually able to join Don Quixote in MAN OF LA MANCHA’s signature song, there is a new joy as she embraces a more hopeful and empowering way of looking at herself.
The journey towards dreaming that impossible dream is presented by all the prisoners, whom Cervantes has drafted into the telling. Innkeeper/Governor (Scott Coonradt) holds some authority over the rabble, and a little less sway over his wife Maria (a comic Kim Edmonds). Coonradt is an imposing presence and by the end, a supportive one. The moments when multiple voices share a song are among the highlights of the play. The ‘concerned’ people singing about Quijana’s welfare was spectacular and featured the talents of Ann Kashishian (Antonia), the Padre (Nathaniel Swofford), Melisse Weber (Housekeeper) and Dr. Carrasco (Tom Groves). The combined actions that made the fight scene come to live were also really well done.
Everyone had a part to play, sometimes two or three. The ensemble included Barber/Moor (JT Grosch), Pedro (Tom Aberant), Anselmo (Ryan Edmonds), Captain of the Inquisitors/Moor (Bill Thomas), Jose/Guard (Joseph Beregi), Paco/Guard (Tim Courteney) as well as guitar player Eric Duran, and Moorish Dancers Mary DiGennaro, Andrea Holtman, Renee von Mechow, and Jan Swarr.
MAN OF LA MANCHA runs through June 25th. Forge Theater, 241 First Avenue, Phoenixville, PA 610-935-1920 Next up at Forge, 1 ACTstavaganza, July 20, 21, 22, 23
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