Friday, June 20, 2008

Play of the Week: Man of LaMancha

Man of LaMancha
Book by Dale Wasserman
Lyrics by Joe Darion
Music by Mitch Leigh

"I shall impersonate a man! Come, enter into my imagination and see him."

This is the ultimate in theatre philosophy. Asking your audience not only to open up to your performance but enter into it as well. The power of imagination to transcend even the most dire situation to give hope is one of the most powerful gifts that we have.

This all sounds too happy-go-lucky as musicals often do, but let us consider that this is not a full musical. It is a musical within a play and functions in a way that allows the audience that much more distance and, thus, scrutiny, for what they are watching. Just like the prisoners in the play who are watching what Cervantes is showing them, we are forced to challenge what we are being shown. Is the mad knight Don Quixote delusional or is he showing us a world that we wish we could live in?

The transformative (literally) moment is when Cervantes opens his chest of properties and costumes and begins to apply the make-up and wig in which he will portray Quixote. There is power her; we see the transformation take place. We forgive representational costuming and staging because it becomes part of how the story is told. It is mean to be much more earthy than a normal play. It was intended to run without intermission - with no break to allow the audience to readjust. It was originally staged in a 3/4's thrust - coming out from hiding behind the proscenium arch and living in three dimensions within the audience.

A little know fact is Man of LaMancha is based on the screenplay I, Don Quixote by Dale Wasserman. It premiered as a made-for-tv movie in 1959 (starring Colleen Dewhurst). Wasserman optioned it for Broadway, but was not picked up. Director Albert Marre suggested that Wasserman, instead turn it into a musical. The rest is history.

On a personal note, I count this musical as my first play. I would make my parents play the record album as I trotted around the living room with on my stick-horse waving my wooden sword in the air. I was "Donkey Ho-tee" riding into the arena. Little did I know at the age of three that a wooden sword and stick-horse were the most appropriate props I could have chosen for the play.

Happy Birthday: Lillian Hellman (1905-1984)

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