Saturday September 22 5:30 pm

Spotlighting events along the south shore of Lake Michigan

Marriott's Dystopian "Man of La Mancha" is Stripped-Down to the Basics

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I’ve seen other theaters modernize plays – Chicago Shakespeare Theatre might move a comedy from Elizabethan times to the Victorian era, for example. I just never thought about the parallels between the Inquisition and the totalitarian states of today. If you’re looking for period costumes, castanets or Aldonza’s long flowing hair, you won’t find it here. In fact, Dulcinea/Aldonza (Danni Smith), who has a glorious voice, has an ultra-modern haircut.

Thrown into the above-mentioned holding cell to await an interview with the Inquisition, Miguel de Cervantes (Nathaniel Stampley) and his man servant, Sancho Panza (Richard Ruiz), are set upon and stripped of their possessions by the other prisoners. As the Governor (Craig Spidle) threatens to burn his manuscript, Cervantes begs him to reconsider, so the Governor decides they must go on trial. The Governor is the judge, the Duke (Matt Mueller) is the prosecutor and all the other prisoners are the jury.

Before they can find him guilty and burn his manuscript, Cervantes demands to present a defense, which turns out to be his play. He dons a simple costume and so begins the story of Don Quixote de La Mancha, a romantic hero or a madman. The other prisoners are sometimes part of the story and sometimes the audience.

Don Quixote and his squire set out on quest. As he looks for his enemy, he spots a windmill, which he thinks is a four-armed giant. After he attacks the windmill’s sails and takes a beating, he decides that he didn’t prevail because he’s never been properly dubbed a knight.

Spotting a castle (a rundown inn) in the distance, Don Quixote has Sancho blow his trumpet to announce their arrival. He expected to be announced by a dwarf, which of course didn’t happen. The Innkeeper (Craig Spidle) welcomes him as a knight and introduces him to his wife (Cassie Slater), and Quixote’s Lady, Dulcinea (the tavern wench, Aldonza). Everyone at the inn thinks that Quixote is a madman. After he fights and wins a battle with the mule drivers, he asks the Innkeeper to dub him a knight. Explaining himself to Dulcinea, he sings “The Impossible Dream”.

The last time I saw “Man of La Mancha” was at Theatre at the Center in 2009. Jim Harms, who plays the Padre and Judas Macabeo in this production, played Cervantes/Don Quixote.

Reasons you’ll want to catch “Man of La Mancha” – the fabulous voice of Nathaniel Stampley in a career defining role; Danni Smith’s defiant, angry and despairing Aldonza; and the Mueller brothers on the same stage, Matt as Duke/Carrasco/Knight of the Mirrors and Andrew as Anselmo.

“Man of La Mancha” has never been one of my favorites, in spite of the brilliant musical score. I can’t think of a single reason why the playwright (Dale Wasserman) should have included a rape scene. Every time I see “Man of La Mancha” I am offended by the rape and by the callous way Aldonza is treated. I find it particularly irritating that no one else seems to be angry or shocked.

“Man of La Mancha” runs through August 14th at the Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire. Running time is 1 hour, 30 minutes, no intermission. Performances are Wednesdays at 1:00 and 8:00 pm; Thursdays and Fridays at 8:00 pm; Saturdays at 4:30 and 8:00 pm; and Sundays at 1:00 and 5:00 pm. Tickets range from $50-$55. Parking is free. FYI (847) 634-0100, www.marriotttheatre.com or www.ticketmaster.com.