Friday, May 16, 2008

La Mancha (very partial)

Yes, he steps up and delivers on the famous anthem that everyone remembers. Patrick McHenry-Kroetch's performance as the idealistic knight in Man of La Mancha (at the Civic through June 15) ranges from virile to feeble. Somehow in "The Impossible Dream," he manages to combine a powerful baritone with tottering movements, showing us Don Quixote's vulnerability and stoic endurance all in the same moment.
As exceptional as McHenry-Kroetch is, however, a number of factors contribute to make the Civic's production good but less than stellar. Some of it is Dale Wasserman's book, which is so episodic (especially in the first act) that most of the narrative momentum (and even coherence) is frittered away. Director Troy Nickerson settles for a jokey approach (slapstick muleteers, goofball Sancho Panza) that instead of pitting idealism against humans the way they really are, poses a debate between idealism and humanity's exaggerated silliness. In the early going as Aldonza, Tami Knoell didn't seem to be in strong voice; later on, she wasn't bitter enough in spitting at Quixote's quest and damning humankind for the crime of being born.
On the other hand, scenic and lighting designer David Baker bathes his Spanish dungeon in golden light at some junctures and has provided a menacing drop-down staircase. Nickerson directs some effective sequences: two stylized horses that appear out of nowhere; the way that Quixote gazes longingly at his Dulcinea and pursues her across the stage during a crowd scene; later on, a stylized rape sequence that while not ugly enough, didn't shy away from ugliness and human corruption, either.

"Love not what thou art, but only what thou may become," says Don Quixote. Idealists get such a bum rap: Realists are always decrying them as impractical, when all practicality gets us is too much focus on all the things that keep us hemmed in.
The tilter at windmills is like that inconvenient, bothersome voice inside all our heads that's always urging us to do better: being quixotic can be obnoxious. Nickerson's production contains many fine moments -- the realistic/idealistic faceoffs between McHenry-Kroetch and Knoell, full of tension; the ensemble's energy as the costumes fly out of the trunk and the play within a play gets produced (not too much, but not in too Spartan a fashion, either) inside the prison; the pathos of the final sequence (Quixote's "death" and "resurrection"). A better production, however, would demonstrate how gritty realism is merely jaded and self-limiting, and how idealism can become self-blinding. By playing up the impractialities of Quixote's insistence on striving for a better life, Nickerson's show settles for humor when it could have expressed a genuine debate.

(partial, draft review)

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At May 17, 2008 9:35 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very partial is RIGHT. And I don;t mean "partial" as defined by quantity. Again, Bowen... really?
I am not sure where your head is at this past year (or two). Is it because you want to direct or act?
All of you reviews (even the good ones) are always a lecture. Maybe you want to teach again? After reading your stuff from the year it seems as though you have no connection with what any of the theatrical artists in town are trying to accomplish and you must always write about what YOU think a show must be about based on YOUR interpretation or influence from past experiences/critics. Your line about idealism is way off. Self blinding? Did you stay to the end to actually get the message of this particular show or did you check out after the overture? Finally, the rape scene was one of the best staged sequences I have ever witnessed and I felt it was to the point, artistic and non-offensive. The civic theatre got the rape message across the right way for its audience.

At May 20, 2008 10:26 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would like to apologize to Director Nickerson and his cast,you all deserve better.

At May 20, 2008 12:04 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you ever read this script?Humor is very much a part of bringing joy to these prisoners lives.This show is for them and done by them.


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