Monday, September 12, 2016

CT Theater Review: Man of La Mancha -- Ivoryton

Thalia Thiesfield and David Pittsinger. Photo: Anne Hudson

Pittsinger Makes Chasing Windmills Interesting
By Lauren Yarger
It’s not often that an actor on a Connecticut stage generates entrance applause, but David Pittsinger, starring as Don Quixote in Ivoryton’s production of Man of La Mancha does just that and it’s well deserved.

Pittsinger delighted audiences at the Playhouse last season as Emile in South Pacific and his rich baritone is no less pleasing in this Mitch Leigh classic, where “The Impossible Dream” received a standing ovation mid-show the night I attended.

This production, directed by David Edwards (who also helmed South Pacific) isn’t just pleasing crowds because of Pittsigner (or because the audience is so relieved it isn’t the last production, RENT, which was not entirely embraced by the more traditional subscribers at Ivoryton). There are some other very talented actors up there on stage to help bring the tale of knight errant Don Quixote to life.

In a book for stage by Dale Wasserman, it is the 16th-Century and tax collector Miguel de Cervantes (Pittsinger) has been thrown into jail along with his servant, Sancho (Brian Michael Hoffman) for trying to foreclose on a church. His fate is at the mercy of the Spanish Inquisition and its Captain (Ryan Cavanaugh). His fellow prisoners in the dungeon (nicely designed by Daniel Nischan in platforms surrounded by brownish stone walls well lighted by Marcus Abbott ) decide to conduct their own trial and to defend himself – and a manuscript they threaten to burn – Cervantes asks for the opportunity to defend himself in the only way he knows—through theater. He takes out a makeup kit and transforms himself into Don Quixote of La Mancha, a knight seeking to destroy and enemy called the Enchanter (who disguises himself as a windmill) and whose quest is the impossible dream ( and presumably, the story contained in the manuscript).

Sancho becomes his squire and the prisoners all take roles as the duo arrive at a dingy establishment run by an innkeeper (Jimmy Van Treuren) which the mad Quioxte is convinced is a castle. There he spies Aldonza (Talia Thiesfield), a whore who is abused by many men, chief among them Pedro (James Ludlum). Don Quixote sees her as the high-bred Lady Dulcinea and treats her with kindness. All is not what it seems, however. Will Quixote’s version of reality be able to transform Aldonza’s life? (Note: the scene where Aldonza is abducted is tasteful, but intense.)

Todd Underwood choreographs, including a fun number where Quixote arrives via a horse-mule team (AJ Hunsucker and Brian Binion, who also does a nice turn as the barber with a solo). Fight choreography is intricate and the action fills the multiple levels of stage. Elizabeth Cipollina provides the costume, wig and hair designs that help tell this story.

The chorus is very strong, with a special shout-out going to Matthew Krob, Amy Buckley, Melissa McLean as well as Director Edwards, who appears on stage as Dr. Carrasco, for lending strong voices to “I’m Only Thinking of Him” and for bringing depth to minor characters.

Paul Feyer directs the small, seven-person band in the pit, through the score, but we can’t help but miss the big-horn sound of a full orchestra, especially on “Man of La Mancha.” Sound Design is by Tate R Burmeister, who does a good job on the mix. The pace is a bit slow a times, but Pittsinger and this fine staging are worth a trip to the theater.

Join Don Quixote's quest through Oct. 2 at the Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main St. Performances are Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 pm; Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm. Tickets are $50 for adults; $45 for seniors; $22 for students and $17 for children. 860-767-7318;

The full casting:
David Pittsinger…. Miguel de Cervantes/Don Quixote

Talia Thiesfield…. Aldonza

Brian Michael Hoffman…. Sancho Panza

Jimmy Van Treuren…. Governor/Innkeeper

Amy Buckley…. Prisoner/Antonia

Melissa McLean…. Prisoner/Housekeeper

Matthew Krob…. Prisoner/Padre.

David Edwards…. Duke/Dr. Sanson Carrasco

Brian Binion…. Prisoner/Juan/Mule/Barber

Ryan Cavanaugh…. Captain of the Inquisition/Prisoner/Paco

AJ Hunsucker…. Prisoner/Jose/Horse

James Ludlum…. Prisoner/Pedro

Conor McGiffin…. Prisoner/Maria

Stephen Mir…. Prisoner/Anselmo

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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