Sunday, June 15, 2008

revisiting La Mancha

This is a very good show, and Bobo was wrong about it.
Not a perfect show, and Bobo still doesn't feel that ALL his criticisms were invalid. But the Civic's *Man of La Mancha* is a very good show.
Start with Patrick's performance: exceptional. Incredible. It was a real treat to see this show nearly four weeks after it opened, as opposed to on opening night. Like any show, it has grown and gotten better. I was struck by how well Patrick was _acting_ his way through "The Impossible Dream." He had the pipes when he needed them for the rousing finish, but before that, he was enacting the doubts and self-inspiration of the lyrics, making it a miniature drama all of its own. He's differentiating Cervantes/Quijana/Quixote even better than he was at first. It's a phenomenal performance. In the death scene, with Aldonza pleading with him and finally declaring herself to be, indeed, Dulcinea, I felt like I was watching one of the great moments in the history of Spokane Civic Theatre unfold.

I realized while watching last night was that much of the too-light tone I object to in this show has to do with Dale Wasserman's book of the musical and not Troy Nickerson's direction of it. Having said that, in my (one person's) opinion, Troy should have toned down the silliness considerably more, because some sequences cheapened what was often a profoundly moving show.
"I'm Only Thinking of Him" takes way too long to characterize the skeptic and his fiancee, the padre and the Housekeeper. As written, it's too long and cutesy. The slapstick "victory" by sheer luck of DQ and Sancho and Aldonza over the muleteers, as written, is silly.
Maybe it's a generational thing: What seemed like necessary "comic relief" in 1965 (a bogus theory: people can handle sadness just fine, and it's not as if every bit of bad news has to be carefully prepared for with a bit of I Love Lucy comedy)just comes off as condescending high jinks now.
"The Moorish Dance" (the gypsies): as written, a silly dance break that repeats what we already know, that DQ can idealize even the most venal and base aspects of human behavior. It's as if Wasserman didn't trust his audience. In terms of mood, I guess I just want more grand opera and less of music-hall comedy in my *La Mancha*s; it's just a matter of personal preference.

It's a matter of tone, and getting the tragicomic balance right is extremely difficult to do.
I felt that the Studio production of *Crimes of the Heart* overcompensated for past jokey productions by making this one too somber, missing too much of the comedy and really missing the black comedy (getting us to step outside anguished moments to realize that from another perspective, they're not heart-rending but absurd). A lot of people disagreed with me on that. Here, almost the reverse is true. Ideally, I would preferred to have seen Troy's direction minimized the slapstick, ha-ha aspects of the musical's book and favor instead, at more junctures, its darker, costs-of-idealism features. In a sense, I think Cervantes is trying to say that Dr. Carrasco-style realism and practicality has its own costs: unpoetic, unromantic, self-limiting, we're all just maggots crawling upon this muckheap of Earth (a viewpoint that Aldonza, of course, expresses and then repudiates -- because she GROWS). But similarly, as Wasserman's book goes overboard in emphasizing (because it's good for a joke), Quixote-style idealism is blind -- it selects what it wants to see. That's part of why Patrick's delivery of the "men have died in my arms" speech is so affecting and solid: it's the idealist declaring that his idealism is grounded in a gimlet-eyed view of how cruel and awful life can be.

But there's so much to admire in this show. I would listen to David Williams sing anywhere: his clear, sweet tenor voice as the Padre was quite affecting and effective in both the Act One closer, "To Each His Dulcinea" and in "The Psalm." I meant even back when I wrote my review to spend more time praising his talent.
The rape scene SEEMED to me (I'm probably wrong) to have added a couple of brief and more graphic moves; I thought it balanced moral ugliness + artistry very well. Patrick's pronoucement that the dishrag is "gossamer"; the timing of two of his and Tami's sudden face-to-face encounters; the way she clings to her missive and asks about the "quest" -- all were spine-tingling moments. In its first appearance, "Little Bird" seems to be motivated by ... what, exactly? It comes out of nowhere. BUT ... its reoccurence during the rape sequence is haunting. Troy created numerous memorable episodes like this.

I still think two or three of the performances were well short of ideal, and, as I said, I think the book is deficient in yukking it up too much. As for the Patrick > Robert Goulet line: I never saw Goulet in the part. But I associate him with phoniness and hamminess. Patrick never fell into that trap, and soared well above it. His performance, and most of this show, should be remembered with pride for years to come.


  1. After my May 20 review here, several people wrote in to inform Bobo just how blind and full of it he is.
    Which is good: the show has many supporters, and it's good when people get agitated about theater (instead of simply bored by it).
    I just reread (for the first time in about two weeks) my initial review and the comments appended to it.
    Blog posters are under no obligation to fully substantiate what they say. But nearly all of them could be summed up under the headings "Bowen is full of it" and "This show was brilliant."
    And both may well be true. Probably are.
    BUT ...
    I'm not asking for the kind of 800-word hot-air ramblings that Bobo often indulges himself with in these pages, but ... would it hurt to back up your claims a little? "XY and Z were great; Bowen missed them." -- again, probably true. But substantiate it a little: WHY were XYZ so good? Was Bobo wrong SIMPLY because he disagreed with Troy's choices? Troy is a wonderful, talented director who does all kinds of things Bobo can't. But is his directing above discussion?
    Bobo's voting for Obama, but I disagree with him on gay marriage and some provisions of his health care plan -- and I'm worried that he is or will soon be too much in bed with lobbyists and powerful business interests. Does that mean I'm disloyal to him or a bad Democrat? No. It means that everything's on the table and worthy of discussion, if you care about politics (or theater) passionately, as I do.
    That's why I keep coming back to the comment about how the inset play's comedy is justified because the poor prisoners, waiting around for death, understandably want to lighten their mood a little. That's a good, perceptive point. AND SO ARE the comments about XYZ being great in Nickerson's production -- because many things about it WERE great.
    Ah, hell, let's just watch the Tonys tonight. On Broadway (whre you might expect it, given teh ticket prices), they're not perfect, either.

  2. Bobo... you ALMOST seem human in this post.

  3. Fine revisit sir! You ARE an honorable man and journalist.