Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s two-part novel The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote of La Mancha, first published in 1605 and 1615 — concurrent with Galileo, the King James Bible and Shakespeare — has been called the greatest novel ever, easily the most influential of the Spanish Golden Age.
That novel inspired the 1965 stage production Man of La Mancha, a Tony winner for best musical and score (Joe Darion and Mitch Leigh) among others. That’s quite an outcome for a show that started life as a non-musical play, I, Don Quixote by Dale Wasserman, which aired on CBS’s live DuPont Show of the Month in 1959.
“This show, interestingly enough,” says Aaron Lamb, artistic director of Harlequin Productions, “was the first big Broadway musical to have a full orchestra that didn’t have any strings. … It’s a wind ensemble. It five reed books and four horn books, which are usually played by about 15 players.” By using musicians as actors, Lamb managed to whittle the score down to five instruments played by a dozen people.
That’s not, however, the only twist Harlequin is using to inspire local audiences.
Lamb called on the services of sign coach and translator Monique Holt to present the role of Aldonza, aka the deluded don’s beloved Dulcinea. Holt is deaf, so she performs using a combination of syntactically correct American Sign Language (ASL) and Visual Gestural Communications (VGC).
This acting style uses easily recognized, nonverbal cues to convey emotion and speech. “A lot of hearing people didn’t realize they knew [VGC] already,” Holt explains.
“Like … ‘Are you hungry?’ ” Holt illustrates by scooping imaginary food toward her mouth, eyebrows raised interrogatively. “It will make the show go seamlessly and make sense, since Aldonza now is portrayed by a deaf actor, and gesturing using their own homemade gestures to communicate, to get their desires met.” Meanwhile, the part will be sung out loud by Cassi Q. Kohl, also playing the innkeeper’s wife.
“It’s been different in a lot of good ways,” says Kohl. “It’s made me better at watching another actor, because there is a huge emphasis on eye contact — especially with the music — making sure you’re in the same part of the song.”
Holt adds, “I do believe we need to find a way to make theater more intersectional than just inclusion. Inclusion doesn’t solve a problem, but intersection makes everyone own it and makes it work for everyone.”
Man of La Mancha
Harlequin Productions’ State Theater,
202 Fourth Ave. E, Olympia
8 p.m. Thursdays – Saturdays except July 4,
2 p.m. Sundays, June 20 – July 27;
3 p.m. Saturdays, July 13-27