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298 Kinderkamack Road, Oradell, NJ 07649


Bergen County Players, inc.


«  »June 2024


Midbergen "Man of La Mancha" Review

Read full article at http://www.midbergen.com/index.php?module=News&func=display&sid=146

Man of La Mancha is a difficult play to pigeonhole, not surprisingly as it came out of the experimental theater of the 1960's. In general, musicals are supposed to cheer us up, and dramas are supposed to challenge us. Dale Wasserman's book combined with the music of Mitch Leigh and Joseph Darion is a musical, but it is a challenging one.

It is often thought that Man of La Mancha is about Don Quixote. But, as many before me have pointed out, it isn't. Don Quixote, one of the bestselling books of all time, is also, by most accounts, one of the funniest books of all time. And Man of La Mancha, although it contains much humor, is not a funny play. There have been accusations of it being overly sentimental, but it is important to remember that it was written during a time when a single mistake could have caused the destruction of the world (or at least all human life on it), and there was a resulting dearth of hope. Man of La Mancha has a message: that by setting your goals higher than you can reach, the very act of trying to be a better person, can make you a much more satisfied one. For the protagonist in the play is not Don Quixote, but Miguel Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote. It is how, by telling a story of a man whose idealism reaches the point of madness, that idealism can spread to those around him.

Which brings us to the Bergen County Players production of Man of La Mancha.

For those who are unfamiliar with the play, it begins with poet/playwright Miguel Cervantes and his manservant being placed into a dungeon, awaiting questioning by the Spanish Inquisition. Their fellow prisoners wish to take their possessions, and give a pretense of holding a trial. With an important manuscript at stake, Cervantes insists that there really be a trial, and, as his defense, proposes that he and his fellow prisoners act out his story of the mad knight, Don Quixote.

Just as Man of La Mancha is a difficult play to pigeonhole, it is also a very difficult play to perform. The actor portraying Cervantes/Don Quixote/Alonso Quiana needs a baritone/bass voice that can fill a theater, yet can alternate from a middle aged poet to a madman who think's he's a knight to a pathetic old man. This puts a huge burden on the actor playing the role. The young Brad Baron pulls it off admirably, handling the Cervantes and the elderly Quixote/Quiana characters with impressive skill (along with an excellent operatic baritone). His performance of "The Quest (The Impossible Dream)", a song that has become a standard and done to death, is well nuanced, and performed to fit the scene, making it seem fresh once again. His acting skills are especially evident in his encounter with the Knight of Mirrors.

Aldonza/Dulcinea is a physically demanding role, requiring that she take full control of the stage at some points, and show vulnerability in others. In addition, a strong and wide vocal range is required. Nina Lionetti, with her clear, operatic voice, is completely up to the role. The third lead, Cervantes' manservant/Sancho Panza, needs to be played as someone who is well aware of what is going on in the prison scenes, but a happy, simple man who treats the whole thing as an elaborate game in the Don Quixote scenes. There are numerous ways to play it; actor Bill Kaufman interestingly plays him with a pronounced lisp, which I am told by Spanish friends is the equivalent in Spain of a "hillbilly" accent. I prefer that explanation to the gender stereotype that would have added a homoerotic undercurrent to the play which would not have added anything. His job is to keep Don Quixote on the borderline between funny and pitiful, and Kaufman's comic talents are definitely put to use, here.

Of the other parts, the performance that stands out is Bruce James Grace's performance of the Padre. More than any other character in the play, the Padre represents the point of view of the audience; simultaneously worried about the welfare of Quixote, but wondering if he is better off in his insanity. The outer trial is about faith vs. reason, with the Padre being the voice of faith. Grace's excellent acting and wonderful voice earned him, short of Brad Baron's standing ovation, the strongest applause at the curtain calls, and his performance deserved it.

The set, as is standard with the Bergen County Players, goes beyond the necessary, into the extraordinary. The walls look like stone that would last for centuries, and there is an ingenious staircase that lowers ominously onto the stage whenever the guards appear, increasing the contrast of the fantasy the characters are creating of the Spanish countryside and the reality they are facing of having to face the Inquisition at any time. Congratulations go to designer/constructor Mark Cardone and decorator Lauren Zenreich for their efforts.

Also as is standard, full advantage is taken of the small stage at the Little Firehouse Theater, with choreographers Oren Korenblum (handling the main choreography), Rhea Smith (handling a significant dance scene) and David Arts (handling the combat choreography).

The unusual musical arrangements (all winds, except for keyboard, bass and acoustic guitar) are handled ably by Musical Director Steve Bell. There were some minor opening night sound problems, but those are sure to be fixed in subsequent performances.

Finally, it must be noted that The Bergen County Players have labeled this play as having mature content. They are correct; there are scenes which are violent, and some sexual scenes, at least by implication. It is not recommended for children. It is recommended for people who want an entertainment that makes them think.

 All performances for Man of La Mancha take place at The Little Firehouse Theatre at 298 Kinderkamack Road in Oradell, home to the Bergen County Players since 1949. Performance times are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, and Sundays at 2 pm, with the exception of Saturday, September 14th, which begins at 8:30 pm. Tickets for Man of La Mancha are $22 for all performances, and can be purchased online at www.bcplayers.org, by calling 201-261-4200 or by visiting the box office at 298 Kinderkamack Road in Oradell during regular box office hours. Visa, Master Card, and American Express are accepted. 

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