Sunday, October 18, 2009

Man of La Mancha

The Palace has done it again.

I really don't know where to start. This is not so much a review, as a commentary, because "Man of La Mancha" is inextricably tied to my memories of Jim and my life with him. The first time I saw the show was when Jim asked me if I would like to go and see it at the State Theater in downtown Austin. Just he and I and a busload of middle schoolers! I never did figure out who was chaperoning whom!

I might have seen the movie sometime in the distant past, because I usually made a habit of seeing anything I could that had Peter O'Toole in it, but I had never seen it on stage. It was the first time I had seen a play (other than at Sam Bass) with Jim, and I loved the evening, the show, the kids, and just being with the man I loved. In short, I was high.

The second time I had any contact with the play was when Cliff Butler directed it at Sam Bass, and I couldn't think how he was going to mount such a production on our tiny stage. I was about to find out, as he asked me to costume it. I had a lovely time turning otherwise normal clothing into filthy rags. There was a Jim connection there, too, as he helped me, and the cast was liberally festooned with students of his. Amanda Harris, Alicia (CiCi) Barone, Michael Fariss, Rob Morris, and Brandon Harris were all Jim's, and it was such a joy to see them neck deep in community theater and loving it. If I have forgotten any of you, please let me know...

I remember using my rusty macrame skills to festoon the barber with all manner of cups and bottles, and chewing nails and spitting rust over our Aldonza, who insisted on costuming herself in totally inappropriate garments.

As well, my life with Jim always seemed to be "The Impossible Dream," and that song used to run as part of the soundtrack of my life, even in the years before he and I ever got together. I always felt that Jim brought out my inner Dulcinea.

So, I knew that seeing the show at the Palace would put me through a bit of an emotional wringer...but I had to do it. After having seen Joe Penrod and Dale Schultz in "Jesus Christ Superstar," where Joe played Pontius Pilate and Dale, Caiaphas, I had to see them do this. Kyle Evans, Doctor Carrasco in this production, was Don Quixote when we did it at Sam Bass. It was wonderful to see him play another role with such strength.

The songs soared. I loved Cathie Sheridan as Aldonza, and a very "ballsy" one she was, too! I thought the black-and-red thing she wore worked well (we didn't provide it), but, as I told her afterwards, it wouldn't have mattered what she wore. She could have come out in shorts and a T-shirt, and it still would have worked.

Scott Saunders as Sancho was terrific...he played the same role at Sam Bass, and is one of the highlights in a terrific show.

One of my favourite songs is "Golden Helmet of Mambrino," just because of the harmony, and I wasn't disappointed. Hair rose on the back of my neck. The ensemble was brilliant. And Justin Langford, as the Padre, just blew me away.

I have one smallish criticism...the fight and rape scenes appeared to be in slow motion. Perhaps that was intentional, reaching for a stylization of the violence, but it didn't quite make it. I think that more speed, or a strobe light, would have improved these two scenes. I loved the red light on the rape scene, and I know they could not have done that if they had used a strobe.

The set blew me away, as most sets do, at The Palace. The creaking stairs, and the immense rock walls are beautifully done, thanks to Michael Davis, Bob's Boys and Barb Jernigan.

I'm going to try to see it again, and I heartily recommend you do, too. It runs at The Palace until November 1st.

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