By Bridgette M. Redman
“Man of La Mancha,” now playing at the Augusta Barn Theater, remains a classic worth seeing, especially if you sit in the front half of the barn. From the back half, it becomes more difficult to follow as important lines are delivered so softly that they cannot be heard.
Opening in a prison common area where Cervantes has been thrown to await his hearing before the Spanish Inquisition, the play transforms into the tale of the would-be knight errant Don Quixote. Famous for tilting at windmills and fighting imaginary ogres, the knight wishes to right all wrongs and be an idealist who dreams the impossible dreams in a world where gritty realism is ugly and cruel.
The action moves back and forth between the prison and Cervantes’ tale of an old man who has taken leave of his sanity and plans to live as a knight, even though knights have not existed in Spain for 300 years when the story takes place. Robert Newman, an Augusta Barn veteran and star of the soap opera “Guiding Light” for 28 years, moves easily between Cervantes and Don Quixote, transforming in age and looks before the eyes of the prisoners who have him on trial. In both roles he is the idealist who argues that it is better to see things as they should be than to see them as they are.
Newman also brings a strong voice to such numbers as “Man of La Mancha” and “The Quest/The Impossible Dream.” While his singing always carries, it is his speaking voice that has the most difficulty carrying to the back, especially when Cervantes is at his most dejected. He does create a very likeable Don Quixote, one that is easy to see why Sancho follows him so readily.
Roy Brown’s Sancho is equally likeable for his loyalty and the way he looks after his master, smoothing over the insane acts with appeals to those around them to humor the older man.
Penelope Alex reprises the role of Aldonza, the kitchen wench who Don Quixote looks upon as his lady, Dulcinea, whom he has known all his life in his dreams, though they meet only upon his arrival at the inn, or in Don Quixote’s mind, the castle. Alex presents an especially strong Aldonza who is confused by the knight errant’s attention, certain that he wants from her what every other man wants.
The chorus of prisoners, muleteers and dancers are committed to their parts and are vocally strong. The song “Little Bird” transforms from sweet in its first presentation to creepy in its reprise. Director and Stage Manager Brendan Ragotzy is to be especially commended for stepping into the role of Pedro after the original actor was injured during final dress rehearsal. Ragotzy brings a cruelty to the role and performs without book despite having stepped into the role only two days prior.
David Vogel and Eric Tsuchiyama deserve special mention as the horse and mule that Quixote and Sancho ride. Despite full-headed masks, they are quite expressive and great fun to watch.
The props were created by James Knox, a long-time Barn staff member who died this past Monday. Some of the props, according to Ragotzy, were from when the Barn did the musical back in the ’70s.
The Dale Wasserman musical has long been a classic, and the Augusta Barn Theatre does it justice with a deep set, authentically ragged costuming and strong performances.
‘Man of La Mancha’
Barn Theatre, 13351 W. M-96, Augusta. Tuesday-Sunday through July 10. $34. 269-731-4121. http://www.barntheatre.com