Aldersgate Church Community Theater Man of La ManchaBy Bob Ashby • Jun 25th, 2013 • Category: Reviews
Aldersgate Church Community Theater: (Info) (Web)
Aldersgate United Methodist Church, Alexandria, VA
Through July 7th
2:25 with intermission
$18/$15 Youth, Seniors
Reviewed June 21st, 2013
Man of La Mancha, which opened Friday night at the Aldersgate Church Community Theater (ACCT), exemplifies how a group can make excellent use of limited resources to mount a very creditable production of a complex show. In her first directing job, Madalaine Vander-Linden created a believable prison environment with a sense of impending violence that never lifts until the final scene. Characters with threatening or crazed miens inhabit the stage and the periphery of the house from the moment the house opens, drawing the audience into the emotional world of the 17th-century dungeon where the play takes place. Throughout the play, actors not directly involved in a particular scene remain on stage, reacting in character to what is going on around them. It is clear in this production that there is a community in the prison — however dysfunctional its members might be — and the driving force of the story concerns how Cervantes changes the nature and spirit of this community.
The set, designed by Jon Poole, is more elaborate than in many productions in this venue, with stippled, dank-appearing walls; multiple platform levels that create nooks for the actors; and a working, creaky drawbridge for entrances and exits of the men of the Inquisition and their prisoners. The set contributes in no small measure to Vander-Linden’s ability to create flexible, active stage pictures that avoid becoming static. The Aldersgate space may have the dubious distinction of hosting the smallest collection of lighting instruments in the metropolitan area, but Chris Hardy’s lighting design, featuring the use of specials for several scenes, does a lot with a little. Fortunately, a dungeon is not a bright, cheerful place, and the darker areas and shadows often work to the advantage of the show’s look.
One of the chronic challenges faced by smaller community theater groups is that their actor pools are likely be smaller than those of larger groups. To borrow a sports term, a group like ACCT does not have the bench depth of a Little Theater of Alexandria or Reston Community Players. Nevertheless, smaller groups can attract talented performers, and Aldersgate’s La Mancha boasts several. The standout in this cast is Christine Condo as Aldonza/Dulcinea. She uses her lyric soprano voice to good effect in numbers like “What Does He Want of Me” and the reprise of “Dulcinea,” while having enough strength to convince in her powerful second-act number, “Aldonza.” Condo succeeds as a physical actor, angrily combative with the muleteers, other women in the inn, and to some extent with Quixote. She is a younger Aldonza than some, playing the role as someone who is still fighting, capable of despair but not yet defeated in life. She also is able to convey a softer side of her character, notably in Quixote’s death scene. My only qualm about her performance is that at times she projected, perhaps unintentionally, a rather more modern sensibility than I picture as fitting for Aldonza.
In the lead role, Dick Reed gets the sweetness, decency, and lunacy of his characters, and his speaking voice and physicality are well attuned to the similarities, differences, and nuances of Cervantes, Quixote, and Alonso Quijana (the country squire who becomes Quixote). A stronger actor than a singer, Reed experienced pitch problems throughout the evening, though he remained able to characterize effectively in his songs.
Vander-Linden’s staging of Quixote’s best-known song, “The Impossible Dream,” was the only point at which I disagreed with her directing choices. Notwithstanding its status as the “hit” song from the show, “The Impossible Dream” works best underplayed, as a quiet, intimate moment between Quixote and Aldonza, in which he expresses and she begins to understand what is in his heart. In this production, Quixote climbs a succession of ever-higher platforms, finally basking in a bright special (in what is supposed to be an outdoor night scene) on the highest platform upstage center, while Aldonza looks up from below as though admiring a rock star. To compound the difficulty, Reed took the final note a third up from where it is written, which felt like an indulgence, making the end of the song more a performance moment than a character moment. (Brian Stokes Mitchell took the same liberty in the tour of the 2002 revival.) The cumulative effect of these choices was to diminish the emotional impact of what can be a deeply moving connection between these two very different people.
As Sancho, Bob Maurer was as amusingly vaudevillian-cheesy in his approach as one could ask for, though fortunately without the Borscht Belt accent that has bedeviled the role since the original Broadway production. His numbers — “I Like Him” and “A Little Gossip” — have never been highlights of the Broadway songbook, but Maurer sold them in a satisfyingly funny way. Maurer sung the numbers significantly lower than written, a wise decision for any actor in the role who does not have a near-countertenor range. The quartet of muleteers (Andreas Barrett, Michael Page, Derek Marsh, and Andrew Rampy) moved nicely and sang their raucous numbers well, and they were central to the show’s effective fight scenes, choreographed by Page, notably the very violent second act beating of Aldonza.
It was in some of the supporting roles that the group’s lack of casting depth was apparent. Mike Walker as the Governor/Inkeeper and Lee Blount as the Padre were not strong singers (Blount was late on a number of music cues), and their acting appeared flat and tentative at times. Ryan Dalusung had the perfect look for the arrogant Duke/Carrasco character, but his strident voice and uncontrolled gestures undermined the character’s precious dignity. Interestingly, Dalusung was far more effective in his reflective armor in the Knight of the Mirrors scene. To their credit, Sarah Spiece and Priscilla Marsh, as Quijana’s niece and housekeeper, in “I’m Only Thinking of Him,” made it understandable why the poor man might well have wanted to have left home for an itinerant life on the road. Among the more noteworthy ensemble roles, Teddy Gron was an exceedingly quirky barber, and Christine Tankersly and Shelagh Roberts played both horses and Moorish dancers with elan.
The orchestra, directed by Jeff Taylor, was spot on through most of the evening and maintained a good balance between instruments and singers. Taylor also showed alertness and adaptability in a few situations in which singers got out of sync with the orchestra. Georgia Harlow’s costumes were appropriately subdued for the inmates; the Knight of the Mirrors outfits for Carrasco and his henchmen provided a moment of bright, shiny contrast. The horse costumes and masks were also colorful and enjoyable to watch.
The traditional place to insert an intermission in La Mancha (the original Broadway version played without an intermission) is following “The Impossible Dream” or “The Combat,” either of which provides a natural ending point to the first portion of the show. For some reason, this production took its act break earlier, after the Padre’s “To Each His Dulcinea,” a quiet song that, even when well performed, does not create such punctuation, creating some surprise when the house lights came up.
A moment for a hobby horse of mine: In this production, like the original Broadway version, Quixote’s name for Aldonza was pronounced “Dull-cinea,” rather than as the “u” vowel would be spoken in Spanish. Especially when sung, “Dull” was an ugly sound in 1965, and it is still ugly today. Here’s hoping that La Mancha productions will catch onto this fact and use the more dulcet, and more properly Spanish, sound in the name.
Man of La Mancha is one of the strongest works of the latter years of the Broadway musical’s “golden age.” This is a well-conceived and successful production of the show that deserves an audience.
Photos provided by Aldersgate Church Community Theater
- Anselmo: Andreas Barrett
- Captain of the Inquisition: Harry Juricic
- Guard of the Inquisition: Gerald McAlister
- Manservant & Sancho Panza: Bob Maurer
- Miguel De Cervantes, Don Quixote, Alonso Quijana: Dick Reed
- Governor & Innkeeper: Mike Walker
- Duke & Carassco: Ryan Dalusung
- Padre: Lee Blount
- Pedro: Michael Page
- Juan: Derek Marsh
- Jose: Andrew Rampy
- Aldonza & Dulcinea: Christine Tankersley
- Antonia: Sarah Spiece
- Housekeeper: Priscilla Marsh
- Barber: Teddy Gron
- Horse & Moorish Dance: Shelagh Roberts
- Set Constuction: Stuart Travis
- Set Design: Jon Poole
- Set Painting: Robert Vander-Linden
- Set Dressing: Laura Juricic
- Properties: Judy Kee
- Light Design: Chris Hardy
- Sound Design: Leighann Behrens & Madalaine Vander-Linden
- Costumes: Georgia Harlow
- Stage Manager: Marg Soroos
- Assistant Stage Manager: Hannah Lau
- Choreography & Fight Choreography: Michael Page
- Assistant Music Director: Cathy Manley
- Music Direction: Jeff Taylor
- Director: Madalaine Vander-Linden
- Assistant to Director: Robert Vander-Linden
- Producers: Leighann Behrens & Drusilla Vander-Linden
- Publicity: Candy Cole & Bill Austin
- Sound: David Correia & Alan Wray
- Props: Jayne Rife
- Board Technicians: Gracie Denton & Kate Hershaw
- Fight Captain: Derek Marsh
- Graphic Design: Leighann Behrens
Disclaimer: Aldersgate Church Community Theater provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review. ACCT also purchased advertising on the ShowBizRadio web site, which did not influence this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/9610.
Bob Ashby has been an active participant in the Washington-area community theater scene since his arrival in town in 1975.