THEATER REVIEW by Alec Clayton for OLY ARTS

Director Aaron Lamb and the cast and crew of Harlequin ProductionsMan of La Mancha took a calculated risk that is paying off marvelously in their production of the classical musical by Dale Wasserman with music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion.

Lamb has updated this version in many ways without changing the 16th-century Spanish setting. In this version, Aldonza (Monique Holt) is deaf. Like the character she plays, Holt is also deaf. She speaks through Artistic Sign Language or Visual Gestural Communication — gestures and expressions designed for the stage. When Aldonza is called upon to sing, Holt uses American Sign Language while Cassi Q. Kohl (who plays the innkeeper’s wife) sings Holt’s songs from the edge of the stage.

The entire production is oriented toward a visual approach, with much of the movement more choreographed (by Jenny Vaughn Hall), which lends to the performance being symbolic and abstract without sacrificing realism.

Other things that set this performance apart are that three Equity actors are used, which is almost unheard of in Olympia, and many of the actors are musicians such as Skyler Blake on guitar as Jose, Andy Garness on drums and percussion as Pedro, Rick Jarvela as Tenorio on tuba and David Stedman as Juan on trumpet and horns.

The very best of musical theater happens when all the elements — sets, lighting, music, costumes and acting — coalesce as if by magic to create a spectacle that is dramatic, engaging and uplifting. At its best, musical theater is transcendental. Harlequin’s Man of La Mancha is all that, and it is also filled with humor.

The magic starts with Jeannie Beirne’s magnificent set: a prison in a massive 16th-century castle. It is dark and foreboding, with massive, brown stone walls, stones for tables and a well in the courtyard, dark and mysterious recesses, and a gigantic set of metal stairs that rises to the theater’s catwalk and is mechanically lowered and raised.

Upon this bleak setting are cast strong shadows from dramatic lighting by Olivia Burlingame, highlighted by a fanfare of drum and horns and Spanish guitar played by the assembled actors on stage.

Loosely based on the novel Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, the poet and tax collector Cervantes (Galloway Stevens) and his servant Sancho Panza (Nick Hall) are imprisoned by the Inquisition for doing their job — foreclosing on the church.

Cervantes’ and Panza’s fellow prisoners want to rob them of the contents of a large trunk they brought in, but the prisoners offer an out if Cervantes can successfully defend himself in a mock trial. His defense is to have the prisoners join him in acting out his tale of the mad knight Don Quixote and his love for Aldonza, whom he calls Dulcinea.

Despite starring roles by Stevens, Hall and Holt, this is in many ways ensemble acting, and every actor, singer and musician is outstanding. The three principals are each in their own way mesmerizing. Stevens displays a strong stage presence and a powerful operatic voice. Kohl also sings beautifully and does a great job of portraying the innkeeper’s wife. Hall is lovable as Sancho Panza.

A warning: There are stylized enactments of sexual and physical assault that could be triggering to some audience members.

Man of La Mancha runs two hours with a 20-minute intermission.

This review appears courtesy The Weekly Volcano.

WHAT

Man of La Mancha

WHEN

8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through July 27

WHERE

State Theater, 202 4th Ave. E., Olympia

HOW MUCH

$25-$42

LEARN MORE

360-786-0151

harlequinproductions.org