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Theater Review

Actors Co-op Revives an Engaging and Passionate 'Man of La Mancha'

October 03, 2002|DAVID C. NICHOLS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Sharp theatricality decorates "Man of La Mancha," opening the 11th season at the Actors Co-op. Dale Wasserman, Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion's 1965 Tony-winning "Don Quixote" musical receives a beautifully designed chamber revival whose passionate conviction springs directly from its principal liability, but more on that later.

Robert Bingham's fine 16th century prison set conveys mood from the outset. Swathed in Bill E. Kickbush's dusky lighting, a lone guitarist (the superb John Minei) performs the overture, and Wasserman's play-within-a-play begins.

The premise pitches Miguel de Cervantes (Ted Rooney) and his manservant (Raul Clayton Staggs) into a group of fellow prisoners of the Spanish Inquisition. Their cellblock tribunal leads to the acting out of Quixote's saga, beginning with Cervantes' transformation into the deluded knight-errant during the title number.

By the finale, the fates of author and creation have intersected, underlining the thesis of the defining anthem, "The Impossible Dream": true heroism lies in the striving for the ideal, regardless of its attainment.

Director Robin Strand maintains palpable atmosphere, as do the designers, with A. Laura Brody's costume plot exceptional. David O's arrangements augment the lean accompaniment with choral embellishments, and Chris Salmon's choreography is stylized and spontaneous.

So is the acting. Rooney's gangly physicality and consummate technique are profoundly apt, and Staggs is an appealing Sancho. As the harlot Aldonza, whose inner nobility only Quixote perceives, Diane Martinous is fiercely touching, and the surrounding ensemble is fearless.

The emphasis on dramatic values is no accident. Barring Gary Lee Reed's pure-toned padre and Denise Scarms' chirpy niece, the cast lacks sufficient vocal heft for Leigh and Darion's rangy score, substituting interpretive intensity for instrumental entitlement. Although this generates considerable raw impact, musical theater devotees should nevertheless prepare to exercise forbearance.

*

"Man of La Mancha," Crossley Terrace Theatre, Actors Co-op, 1760 N. Gower St., Hollywood. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 p.m. Ends Nov. 17. $20-25. (323) 462-8460. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.

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