Tilting at Windmills: Bucks County Playhouse’s LA MANCHA

by Kevin Korowicki

There is always pressure to produce a successful production in any theatre. But try to live up to the legacy of the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, PA and, well, it can be overwhelming. Such actors in their day such as Jessica Tandy, Hume Cronyn, Angela Lansbury, Don Knotts, Jack Klugman, Sandy Dennis, Margaret Hamilton and Robert Redford have all graced their stage. The theatre still has the designation, “The State Theatre of Pennsylvania”, for it used to feature up and coming shows which were Broadway bound. They were the “try-out” theatre where the show was tweaked prior to a New York opening. Today, there are no pre-Broadway shows and the talent is young, but the Playhouse is still shooting for high standards. Their opening night of the famous MAN OF LA MANCHA was a noble effort in keeping with their history and the context of this particular show based on ideals and dreaming the impossible dream.

Jim Lynch (Don Quixote) and Lauren Brownstein (Aldonza/Dulcinea) star in Bucks County Playhouse's production of MAN OF LA MANCHA, running through Sept. 26 in New Hope, PA.

Peter Martino’s set was a very realistic dungeon for Miguel De Cervantes, played by a young Jim Lynch, and his trusted, Soupy Sales’ like manservant, Sancho, portrayed by Director and theatre owner, Ralph Miller. Martino’s set was eerie and looked like a place you would not want to be thrown into during the Spanish Inquisition. Several audience members commented that the set was very powerful and realistic. What is more impressive is that Martino has only four days to construct the set due to the way the theatre schedules its performances. There were some slight sight line problems, which Martino acknowledged after the show; that the wings were visible to at least two thirds of the 400 seat theatre, permitting the audience to see actors moving about pre-entrance to the main stage. This was due to the necessary construction design of the lights in the old barn theatre. You deal with what you have and make the best of it and Martino does just that. James Lajoie, Sound Designer, acknowledged that the music is a little “tinny” and is adjusting the bass on the speakers after opening night. Lajoie, who also runs the light board, unfortunately has to deal with lights that don’t have much adjustment capability. Dimming or slow fades instead of harsh cut offs would be better for this show, considering it’s a play within a play; a “dream” of the writer as he battles windmill dragons, but it cannot happen. New LED lights that save the theatre tons in electric costs are not able to perform such tasks. Kudos to the Playhouse for going “green”; however, again, there is a tradeoff.

The show’s main “voices” were for the most part trained well under the direction of Musical Director Chris Baron, who doubled as the Padre. Baron’s quality was definitely in his singing, a rich sounding tenor performing “To Each His Dulcinea”. Lauren Renahan (Alonso’s Niece) did a fine job with “We’re Only Thinking of Him” and showed a rising potential. The prisoners/chorus consisted of young voices still needing some experience and punch. Miller, playing the goofy sidekick, does not have a powerful voice, but that’s fine. His comedic singing voice was funny and it was put to good use in “I Really Like Him”. Lynch, who has a more of a tenor voice than baritone, performed Quixote with more of a whimsical tone, using his upper register, resulting in lighter sound quality. I believe this to be an actor’s choice on how he played his character. As a result, the famous “The Impossible Dream” and “Man of LaMancha” were more lighthearted than the traditional style. Lauren Brownstein was the whore turned enlightened Lady whom Quixote waxes his knightly charms, Aldonza/Dulcinea. Brownstein belted out “It’s All the Same” with a determined voice, showing the cast and audience that she had pipes. As the mistreated and abused Aldonza, Brownstein was brash and bold, dealing with the famous rape/beating scene. She had a harder time softening up as Dulcinea, but that will come with the run of the show.

Some of the scenes during this production seemed like they lacked actor’s confidence, such as the fight between the proud Knight, his Squire and the rowdy rogues. Since the actors only had three days on stage prior to opening, this could be a reason and therefore, should get better with each performance. However, the staging, acting and singing during “We’re Only Thinking of Him” was very “chess-like” in movement and style. Compliments to Barron, Renahan, Martino and the Housekeeper, Lunda Cornelius (who also runs the Playhouse’s children’s theatre), for the best scene of the night. Saving the best for last, Bob Marcus (Governor/Innkeeper) had a commanding stage presence and was a powerful glue in the show. His Knight dubbing scene with Lynch was funny and gave all the audience good laughs. One good note about “live theatre”; Miller did a nice job in saving a fellow actor whose costume got caught on the steps of the detailed set by unhooking him from a possible entanglement. Loved it. In the movies, they yell “Cut”; on stage, you deal with it.

Pete C. from Washington’s Crossing, PA, and a long time patron of the Playhouse summed up the night well, “You can go to Broadway and spend $130 a ticket and may not see a good show or you can come here for $15-20 and definitely get your money’s worth.” Pete likened the cast to his “Phillies”. He comes here and sees familiar actors performing day in and day out for a good value of entertainment. According to a quote from this show, “Facts can be the Enemy of the Truth”. However, I believe Pete was right. MAN OF LA MANCHA was a good value for your money. The run continues Thursday through Sunday for the next three weeks.

Book by Dale Wasserman
Music by Mitch Leigh
Lyrics by Joe Darion
Directed by Ralph Miller
Musical Direction by Chris Baron
September 9 – 26, 2010

Bucks County Playhouse
70 South Main Street
New Hope, PA

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