Thursday, August 15, 2002
Photo by Richard Green
Photo: Three''s A Charm-Sarah Jebian, Paul Myrvold and Lawrence-Michael C. Arias shine in Man of La Mancha.
This season marks a transition for The Western Stage. The new leadership of this fine theatre company chose the 1960s musical Man of La Mancha as the season''s blockbuster musical and "The Impossible Dream" as the season''s theme. By doing this, they have proven two things: First, that the story of Don Quixote and his creator Miguel de Cervantes is as timely as it was when the novel was first published in 1605, let alone as it was in 1966 when Man of La Mancha won its five Tony awards; and second, that The Western Stage is alive and very well, thank you, even after the departure of Tom Humphrey, the man who was its guiding light for a decade and a half.
Man of La Mancha is set in a dungeon, a pre-trial waiting area for murderers, thieves, prostitutes and those committing crimes against The Most Holy Catholic Church of Spain. In other words, this is the Spanish Inquisition. Into this group is thrown the great writer Cervantes. While he is awaits the tortures of the Inquisition, he is put on trial by his fellow prisoners. He is accused, among other things, of being a dreamer and an honest man. He stands to forfeit to this kangaroo court all of his possessions, including the treasured manuscript of his unfinished novel, Don Quixote. Because he is an actor as well as a writer, Cervantes defends himself by performing the story of his novel. He enlists the aid of his manservant and eventually of his fellow prisoners.
In the dual role of Cervantes and Don Quixote, consummate performer Paul Myrvold outdoes himself. Myrvold has played this role five times, and it is clear he loves every minute of it. Always an engaging and likeable performer (at The Western Stage he has played everything from a dissolute writer to God), in this role he seems to twinkle. From the moment he sits onstage and transforms himself into the aging, beleaguered, self-proclaimed knight Don Quixote, the audience is in his thrall. His powerful, nuanced voice brings the most out of the lovely ballad "Dulcinea" and stops the show on the musical''s centerpiece, "The Impossible Dream."
As Quixote''s foil, Sancho Panza, Lawrence-Michael C. Arias is a bundle of energy. Though often verging on overplaying the role, Arias manages to strike just the right balance of energy and sincerity. He is a Renaissance version of Roger Rabbit.
Sarah Jebian as Quixote''s courtly love interest Dulcinea also shines. She finds both the grittiness and the nobility of a kitchen wench, belting "It''s All the Same" like a barroom habitue, then rising to the inspirational glory of the reprise of "The Impossible Dream."
Standouts in the fine ensemble include Richard Boynton in a razor sharp dual performance as The Duke in the prison and Quixote''s son-in-law-to-be in the story within the story, Peter M. Eberhardt as the Governor/Innkeeper and John G. Bridges IV as the Padre. The entire cast clearly cares about this show. One of the most charming moments on opening night was during the cast reprise of "The Impossible Dream." As the song rose to its moving finale, one of the cruel, nasty, unfeeling Inquisition guards furtively wiped tears from his eyes.
In a year when people have been faced with excruciating trials like watching terror drop from a cloudless sky, like seeing implode a conspiracy of silence to surpass anything the Soviet Union could manufacture, like anxiously waiting for the safe return of stolen children only to be crushed under the weight of the unthinkable, in a year such as this it is a gift to be reminded that even in the face of grief and terror we must find the beautiful so that each of us has his Dulcinea-that which leads us to strive to be our best. It is the right, even the duty, of each of us "to right the unrightable wrong," "to bear with unbearable sorrow," and indeed, "to dream the impossible dream." What makes us heroes is not what comes our way, but how we face what comes our way. We can, as Don Quixote and Cervantes tell us, make the world better by facing it with courage.
Man of La Mancha runs at Hartnell College''s Western Stage through August 31st. For reservations and information phone 755-6816.