Volume II, Issue II Summer 2003

'Man of La Mancha' in stirring joust with evil

Review by Lucy Komisar

Man of La Mancha
Book by Dale Wasserman, music by Mitch Leigh, lyrics by Joe Darion

Directed by Jonathan Kent

Al Hirschfeld Theatre
302 W. 45 St.
New York
Through August 31


There's a reason we still know the music from "Man of La Mancha" nearly 40 years after it debuted on Broadway. Musical numbers such as "The Impossible Dream," "Dulcinea" and the title song have vitality and color, and the words speak to high sentiments.

The industrial steel set of Jonathan Kent's production is a vivid reminder that the rusty dungeon of the Catholic Inquisition is repeated in modern times, and that people with ideals and courage are still needed. Lines like, "When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Too much sanity may be madness," are apt for these times. And the comically lascivious priest (Marc Jacoby) could not be more appropriately current.

If only the dialogue was up to the songs and choreography. The language instead is hokey and may be the reason the play never ignites.

Man of La Mancha That said, this revival is still worth seeing for the production numbers and the performance by Brian Stokes Mitchell, a charming and stirring "Knight of the woeful countenance" — Don Quixote.

In Dale Wasserman's script, we see the Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes (Mitchell) thrown in prison because his writings offend the Catholic Church. The other inmates accuse him of being "a bad poet, an idealist and an honest man."

In his defense, he tells the story of Don Quixote, using the rough fellow inmates as players in his fantasy. Everything occurs in the dingy metal dungeon (the set is by Paul Brown), with high walkways and ladders, through which you can glimpse pinches of sky and then suddenly greater expanses of the imagined world beyond.

Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, playing the whore Don Quixote imagines as his love, Dulcinea, has an excellent soprano, but one would have liked a more raucous Anna Magnani type in this role. Her character, Aldonza, is supposed to have been brutalized by her circumstances and her townsmen, but Mastrantonio looks like a magazine cover-girl.(She was succeeded by Marin Mazzie, another elegant musical player.)

Sancho (Ernie Sabella) is for some reason turned into a Jackie Gleason/Jonathan Winters style comic. It grates.

To make the leap from reality to Don Quixote's "delusions" — or imagination — we need to see how lowly the characters really are.

Summer 2003 Theater Section | Summer 2003 Main Page
Current Theater Section | Current Home Page