MAN OF LA MANCHA
by Mitch Leigh, Joe Darion and Dale Wasserman
This radical reinterpretation was inspired by the dark revisionist stagings of Sam Mendes' Cabaret and John Doyle's Sweeney Todd. It was 2008 and the atrocities of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib had come to light, both terrifying narratives of corrupt political-prison systems that recalled in my mind the brutalities of the Spanish Inquisition, and moreover, the framing device in Dale Wasserman's book for the classic musical, in which Miguel de Cervantes reenacts Don Quixote for a group of hostile inmates while waiting to be tried. This exceptionally dark premise had been almost entirely overlooked in the latest Brian Stokes Mitchell revival, which prioritized the matinee idol approach at the cost of La Mancha's more inherently provocative politics.
Determined to relate the renowned story of madness waging war against the cruel, real world as simply and brutally as possible, I proposed to gut the production of its usual conventions, endeavoring to literalize Wasserman’s framework by reducing the company to a mere eight men and limiting the action to a single cell with two guitars. This rendition of Quixote was to be a dangerous improvisation that progressively blurred the line between reality and fantasy. The score by Mitch Leigh was brought to life via intricate harmonies and percussions that organically echoed the original orchestrations (as devised by music director Justin Levin and consultant Stephanie Johnstone). The stylized abduction of Aldonza was translated into an explicit prison rape. The famed golden helmet of Mambrino, implied by a filthy chamber-pot. This assault on the impossible dream tilted at the windmill of audience preconception and literary reverence asking to what extant live-performance is capable of engaging with/affecting the horrors of life well beyond the insular world of musical-theater.
Man of La Mancha was first presented by Room5001 at the Duo Theater in 2008. Set Design by Eric Southern, Costume Design by David Mendizabal. Lighting by Bradley King. Sound Design by Brittany O'Neil. Music Direction by Justin Levine. Additional Music Direction by Stephanie Johnstone. Fight Choreography by Drew Leary. Featuring Justin Levine, Rusty Buehler, Dorian Shorts, Ricardo Perez Gonzalez, Omar Perez, Joie Bauer, Kelvin Ortega, and Beau Edmonson.