Photos by David Busch
|Kehry Anson Lane as Miguel de Cervantes|
Man of La Mancha is a story woven into a story that is ultimately about the stories we choose to tell ourselves and others. Iowa City Community Theatre holds up its end of the arrangement by delivering a beautifully told rendition of this beloved story-within-a-story, keeping the audience as enthralled as the prisoners become. From the moment we enter the space, we are transported. The inmates wander, keeping varying degrees of engagement with each other and their surroundings, maintaining distinct behaviors and characters. The set design (Michael Blake) is lovely and evocative, with unobtrusive pieces that appear seemingly out of nowhere for use in the action.
Lane carries the title role of the show quite well, with the right balance of charm and wit to realize all iterations of his character. His voice is powerful, and well-suited to this score, although there were some balance issues with the orchestra early in the show. His physical work is less specific than his vocal - although the decision was made to add white to his hair, the character's age was never clear. If timelessness was the goal, then it was achieved - but I wanted to see a more grounded representation. As Don Quixote, his fits of weakness were sporadic and incongruous and, although the similarities are more compelling than the differences anyway, there was no clear break between Cervantes and his role. Still, Lane's storytelling skills are palpable. He draws the audience in with every word.
Larry Newman as Sancho Panza was a fantastic foil to Lane's Don Quixote. Their interplay is bliss to watch, and their voices blend beautifully when they sing together. The two actors are matched well in skill; however, their performance styles seem quite different, which makes for a grittiness between them that pushes each to his best work.
|Heather Michele Lawler as Aldonza; |
Larry Newman as Sancho Panza
Colin Nies, as Duke/Dr. Carrasco, was another stand-out performance. There was never a moment when he was not fully engaged, and his transitions between roles set a high mark for the rest of the cast to aim towards. He was blessed in that his characters had arguably the most growth throughout the play, but he made every moment of it believable, right down to the tear-jerking ending.
The ensemble of this piece was something of a mixed bag. There were some solos that seemed either poorly prepared or ill-considered, and I found a couple of characters, such as Glen Schmitz's choices as Captain of the Inquisition, a bit confusing and distracting. However, there were prominent performances as well. Celine Se-in Kim's voice is astounding, both in her solo as Antonia and in the choral numbers. Emily Basili and Audrey Thompson-Wallace, in particular, were a joy to watch, every time they could be seen. I loved the conceit of arcing the ensemble as an audience for Cerventes' (and each others') performance, but found it frustrating that the same actors were generally in the same locations, some of which were not visible. I trust that many other interesting performances were being given that simply couldn't be seen.
|Kehry Anson Lane as Don Quixote de la Mancha|
Overall, this production is a powerful rendition of a story that never goes out of fashion. If you need to be inspired to dream, impossibly, take the time to see this show. Man of La Mancha runs through May 4 at the Johnson County Fairgrounds. Tickets and info available here.