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THEATER REVIEW

`Man of La Mancha's' call to courage resonates

The Rubicon Theatre's grandly appointed and serviceable revival has relevance even in today's times.

October 11, 2006|David C. Nichols | Special to The Times

The longevity of "Man of La Mancha" must vex the jaded, even though Mitch Leigh, Dale Wasserman and Joe Darion's 1965 musical goes onward to glory with as much grit as sentiment. Framing the whimsy of "Don Quixote" within the dark context of author Miguel de Cervantes facing the Spanish Inquisition, "La Mancha" is a genuinely serious musical that theatrically entertains without sacrificing its convictions.

These are embodied in its signature anthem, "The Quest" (better known as "The Impossible Dream"), and make the critic-proof Tony winner seem ultra-relevant in the face of recent legislation concerning detainees and torture. This aspect, along with stellar leads George Ball, Jennifer Shelton and Jamie Torcellini, sustains the grandly appointed revival at the Rubicon Theatre in Ventura.

Designer Thomas S. Giamario's striking set of stone columns, barred portals and catwalk with cranked-up staircase makes its own statement. The staircase lowers like a drawbridge to hell amid mechanical din and deposits tax collector Cervantes (Ball) and his wary servant (Torcellini). Their kangaroo court by the prisoners becomes a dungeon dramatization of Quixote's misadventures, pitted in real time against the graver trial that awaits upstairs.

At the reviewed Sunday afternoon performance, Ball, staunchly dualistic, triumphed over matinee throat, husbanding his resources for key sequences with old-school resonance.

The golden-voiced Shelton is marvelous as Aldonza, the trollop whose inner maiden Quixote ignites, and Torcellini brings refreshing subtlety to Sancho (Rod Lathim assumes the role starting Nov. 8).

Standouts in the proficient ensemble include Randal Keith's cellblock leader, Joseph Fuqua's cynical realist, Natascha Corrigan's niece, Peggy Billo's housekeeper and Gary Lee Reed's padre.

Marcy Froehlich's 16th century costumes and Jeremy Pivnick's dusky lighting are richly evocative, and if it lacks force, musical director David Potter's synthesizer-driven band compensates with flavor.

They and director James O'Neil explore subtext at the expense of tempos, which adds unnecessary length, while the inserted intermission and some wan transitions blur the play-within-a-play overview.

Cate Caplin provides capable choreography that Sam Zeller's broad Pedro and the muleteers, Melora Hutton's lithe Fermina and her Moorish dancers, almost oversell in their zeal.

Nonetheless, despite a net effect more serviceable than consistently thrilling, the emotional rush of "La Mancha's" inspirational call to courage is undeniable. This resolute reading may not quite reach the unreachable stars, but it certainly aims for them.

*

`Man of La Mancha'

Where: Rubicon Theatre, 1006 E. Main St., Ventura

When: 2 and 7 p.m. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays

Ends: Nov. 12

Price: $34 to $59

Contact: (805) 667-2900, www.rubicontheatre.org

Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes

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