Stephen Epp and Luverne Seifert star in Man of La Mancha
Ten Thousand Things Theatre is known for producing plays and musicals that are spare in their staging, but rich in their humanity.
The company's latest production tackles the musical "Man of La Mancha," starring Stephen Epp as Miguel de Cervantes and Luverne Seifert as his manservant. The reviewers agree; this is not the traditional musical, but it is a powerful, compelling piece of theater. "Man of La Mancha" runs through May 8 - check out the excerpts of reviews below, or click on the links to read them in their entirety.
Epp's Cervantes is less a portrayal than it is a personal compulsion. Each moment burns with honesty, even as he descends into childish madness and self consciously goofs off. Epp constantly grounds the enterprise with Cervantes' nobility, a decency dedicated to transporting the inmates' spirits beyond these bars.
Actor Matt Guidry, ever the gnarly skeptic as Dr. Carrosco, scolds Cervantes's desire to escape through imagination, only to draw the rebuke that too much sanity is madness. Epp is spot on with a character who may act a fool but embodies an eloquent advocacy for greater existence -- an impossible dream.
Hensley's production keys off Epp's performance. Physically taut and musically lean, it is perfectly modulated to reveal tenderness and brutality side by side. Actors confidently indulge the manic burlesque with improvised asides and a loose playfulness -- they are, after all, prisoners making this stuff up. Yet sublime moments of ethereal beauty invade the ridiculous. T. Mychael Rambo lends a gorgeous and aching voice to "Dulcinea;" Epp channels an a cappella vulnerability in "The Impossible Dream."
...First among this production's powerful presences is Steven Epp's marvelous and moving performance in the central role. Epp is no opera singer, but he still gives a lusty rendition of "I, Don Quixote." His eyes glint with genial madness, and while he maximizes the role's comic possibilities, Epp also imbues Cervantes/Quixote with the wisdom of those Shakespearean clowns unafraid to speak truth to power.
...Luverne Seifert comes close to stealing the show as Quixote's antic, bug-eyed sidekick, Sancho Panza. His chemistry with Epp evokes fond memories of their days working together at the erstwhile Theatre de la Jeune Lune. In fact, if one were of a mind to pick critical nits, it could accurately be pointed out that director Hensley gives her performers considerable latitude, and that Epp (with his malapropisms) and Seifert (with his stammering line readings and vocal jumping jacks) both pull oft-used devices from their deep and substantial aesthetic bags of tricks.
That's a small price to pay, however, for a fine and moving interpretation of "Man of La Mancha" that loses no power in its compact telling.
Ten Thousand Things' production of Man of La Mancha runs through May 8
...Fueled by Epp's terrific performance and director Michelle Hensley's ability to get to the heart of any material, Man of La Mancha strips the musical bare from beginning to end. Seven actors play all the roles. The music arrives via keyboards and percussion. Sets and costumes, as usual for Ten Thousand Things, are minimal and improvised.
At one moment, Epp asked an audience member for her program, which he then fashioned into a very rough knife/sword so Quixote could fight his rival. This playfulness only sharpens the tragedies at the center of the show--of Quixote's need to be mad to finally be truly free, and of his creator's trial of his ideals before a court of prisoners (which probably went better than the one before the Inquisition, which looms over the entire proceedings).
Man of La Mancha reaches into the mind, heart, and soul in a way that all the flashy sets, cast of thousands, and bold, auditorium-filling voices never manage.
Cervantes gives one of the inmates, the seemingly unreachable, lost-in-her-hallucinations Reyna, the role of Aldonza. She is then transformed - or transforms herself - into the exquisite Dulcinea. "My virgin." This progression from near-insanity into genuine grandeur amazes, and is a major reason this piece is so often performed. (That and the anthemic song "The Impossible Dream.") "Look at me as I really am," Aldonza/Dulcinea pleads. "I see Beauty," is Cervantes's reply. Wow.
Regina Williams plays this perfectly. Her approach to Aldonza is still, hushed, restrained - and gooseflesh-producing. She goes from bent over and muttering to convincingly regal. Every scene she plays with Cervantes mesmerizes. La Mancha is beautifully acted, but even so, Williams's performance stands out.
So did you see Man of La Mancha? If so, what did you think? Share your review in the comments section.