Theater Review: 'Man of La Mancha'—dream is possible

Mark Kann’s dedication to every aspect of theater makes possible the astounding growth of a small-town community playhouse. For this production, he directs, is musical director, and facilitates programs and publicity. These are just the jobs mentioned in the program. With Bill Beard as production manager, acting coach and costume coordinator, the dream becomes possible.

Every detail of Man of La Mancha achieves professional status. The outstanding cast, led by Scott Chacula, sings one of the most difficult scores in musical theater. Chacula as Don Quixote brings the purity and emotion of a dreamer facing the Inquisition to an enthralled audience. In the final scenes, he lies dying with tears in his eyes, realizing the dream survives

Margie Bartscher is his Dulcinea, abused and bitter, facing a life of futility until the errant knight recreates her. Sancho Panza, played by Howard (no last name available), is the loyal companion, who, when questioned, declaims, “I like him, I really like him.”

The group numbers combine a blend of voices in perfect harmony. Antonia (Jessica Grace Schoensiegel); The Housekeeper (Kathy Bartscher) and Padre (Kevin Lister) in “We’re Only Thinking of Him” represent that harmony. Kann’s genius in piping the orchestrations on stage is truly innovative. Sixteen young people play a difficult score in a small room over the lobby. Kann plays keyboards, directs and balances everything. There were a few glitches, but a confident cast covered beautifully.

Set in a prison filled with common criminals and those awaiting the Inquisition, the stairway, lowered when guards and soldiers arrive, gives us the feeling of awaiting doom. The boom of the apparatus only emphasizes the prisoners’ fears. The Marquis de Sade, sent to a madhouse for inappropriate behavior, organizes the inmates to perform his dramas. Like de Sade, Cervantes frees his companions with imagination and hope. The familiar “The Impossible Dream” is a theme we immediately hear when remembering this production. The lighting contributes to the atmosphere of hopelessness, and the ragged costumes clothe those in despair.

Violence erupts when the Muleteers attack Aldonza (Dulcinea), and Don Quixote comes to her rescue. The fight choreography works amazingly well in a small space, and when her abduction takes place, Aldonza puts up a struggle resulting in real bruises on the arms and legs of Bartscher.

Many of the cast have not been on stage before. Their confidence and stage presence belies their inexperience. In his “Director’s Notes,” Kann says, “This play captures some of the very heart of Quixote’s dreams, discouragements, humor and sincerity that Cervantes bestowed him with, and I hope we have accomplished our task of faithfully representing it to you today.”

That task is fulfilled. A drive in the country on a warm summer evening brings the audience to a small theater on the main street of Pecatonica, where we enjoy a musical drama equal to many professional works. We thank everyone involved for that gift.

Man of La Mancha is playing this weekend at Pec Playhouse. You may be fortunate to get tickets by calling (815) 239-1210. The show runs through Aug. 14, 2005.

From the Aug. 10-16, 2005, issue

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