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Monday, March 29, 2010

Man of La Mancha


Last Thursday, Sarah and I went to her high school to see the production of "Man of La Mancha."  I was looking forward to the play because it was my father's favorite play, favorite story, and the main song "The Impossible Dream" was his favorite.  My dad would walk around the house singing that song a lot - and I mean a lot.  To this day I still know all the words and can hear his voice in my heart and the joy he got from being so dramatic and vocal.  He'd open his arms wide and belt out the "Impossible Dream" like he meant every word.  He even asked me to learn it on the piano so I could be his musical backup.  I learned it alright, and since last Thursday I've been digging through my old music trying to find it so I can play it once again.


Man of La Mancha is a remarkable story and one of the greatest theatre successes of our time.  I think it was courageous of the theatre teacher at Sarah's high school to take on such a powerful play, but her students did not let her or the audience down.  The play was first rate, the student actors were outstanding and believable, the singing was surprisingly great, and the musicians below the side of the stage were really good.  


For as many high school productions as I've seen in my lifetime, this was by far the best.  The student actors were poised and very much into character.  The costumes and stage setting was excellent as well. All I can say is that the teacher is not the only one who is proud of this production - the parents and visitors are proud as well.


The young man who played the part of Cervantes' "Don Quixote" was outstanding as a young actor.  You could tell he took his part seriously and depicted Knight Don Quixote with passion and believability.  


Do you know the story of Man of La Mancha?  It is a play within a play, based on Miguel de Cervantes' Knight "Don Quixote."  It is a poignant story of a dying old man whose impossible dream takes over his mind.  The songs "It's All the Same," "Dulcinea," "I'm Only Thinking of Him," and "The Impossible Dream," remain in your thoughts and in your heart long after you have seen this production.


Don Quixote's dream is every man's dream.  He tilts at windmills and calls them castles, he sees all of God's creations with starry eyes and a sense of beauty, and he takes great joy in every step of life as a great adventure.  Somehow, although the footlights soon disappear, time becomes telescoped, and the "Man of La Mancha" speaks for all humankind.


Who is this man Miguel de Cervantes?  He is an aging old man who has been an utter failure in his careers as a playwright, a poet, and a tax collector.  He finds himself thrown into a dungeonous prison in Seville in the 1600s awaiting trial by the inquisition for an offense against a church.  While in prison, he is hailed before a nutty court of his fellow prisoners: murderers, thieves, cutthroats, and trollops who propose to confiscate his meagre possessions.  One possession of value is the manuscript of a novel called "Don Quixote."  Cervantes, seeking to save it, proposes to offer his fellow prisoners a novel defense in the form of entertainment.  A play that will include his fellow prisoners.  


The kangaroo court of fellow prisoners accedes and before their eyes, donning full make up and costume, Cervantes and his faithful manservant transform themselves before everyone's eyes into Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.  They proceed to play out the story with the participation of the fellow prisoners as other characters in the play.


Don Quixote and Sancho take to the road on their horses in a lively flamenco dance, singing "Man of La Mancha" in a campaign to restore the age of chivalry, to battle evil, and to right all wrongs. Quixote has an encounter with Windmills, believing them to be castles, but he ultimately ascribes his defeat to the machinations of his enemy - the dark Enchanter - whom one day he pledges to meet for a mortal combat.


Quixote and Sancho arrive at a roadside Inn, the same one that Quixote had insisted was a castle.  The inn's serving girl, Aldonza, is constantly being propositioned by a gang of rough muleteers.  Quixote, on the other hand, sees Aldonza as the dream-ideal "Dulcinea" whom he wishes to serve evermore, and so he sings the song "Dulcinea" to her confusion.  


Aldonza becomes angered by Quixote's refusal to see her as she really is.


When the Padre and Dr. Carrasco arrive at the inn, they begin to question Quixote and are frustrated by his lunatic and comic logic.  They are soon interrupted by the arrival of an itinerant singing barber.  Quixote insists that the barber give him his shaving basin, convinced it is really the "Golden Helmet of Manbrino." The barber lets Quixote confiscate the shaving basin and he is ceremoniously crowned with the aid of the Muleteers and the incredulous barber. 


Aldonza later encounters Quixote in a courtyard where he is holding a vigil in preparation for being dubbed a knight by the innkeeper.  She questions him about his seemingly irrational ways and is answered in a statement of his credo - The Impossible Dream.


Aldonza, enlightened by Don Quixote's idealism, attempts to put it into practice in her own life, but she is cruelly beaten, ravaged, and abducted by the Muleteers.



Quixote and Sancho return to the inn and encounter the disillusioned Aldonza who sings her denunciation of the Impossible Dream. The Enchanter enters the inn, disguised as the Knight of the Mirrors and challenges Quixote to combat.  Quixote is defeated and is then forced to see himself as a pathetic clown.


When at home once again, the old man Cervantes, who once called himself the Knight, Don Quixote, lay dying.  Aldonza, having followed him home, forces her way into his room, pleading poignantly with him to restore his vision of glory, a glory that she held so briefly in the song Dulcinea. Quixote, remembering his dream, rises from his bed to reaffirm the stirring "Man of La Mancha," but collapses once again, dying.  Aldonza, having had a glimpse of his vision once more, refuses to acknowledge his death, saying to him "My name is Dulcinea."  



Back in the dungeonous prison, Cervantes' story deeply affected his fellow prisoners and they return to him his precious manuscript.  He is then summoned to his real trial by the inquisition, and the prisoners unite to sing him on his way with "The Impossible Dream."


Don Quixote is one of the finest creations in literature.  The story's eternal themes are as relevant today as they must have been those hundreds of years ago.  There is something seemingly reassuring (or dismaying)  about the knowledge that our predecessors must have experienced the same emotions, and pondered the same questions, as ceaseless and torturously as we do now.

If you have never seen Man of La Mancha, you must see it.  Either the movie or the play, but see it.  It is a remarkable story and will leave a lasting impression on you forevermore.  I only wish my father were here to have enjoyed this with us.  I can hear him singing ...

To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go

To right the unrightable wrong
To love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are too weary
To reach the unreachable star

This is my quest
To follow that star
No matter how hopeless
No matter how far

To fight for the right
Without question or pause
To be willing to march into Hell
For a heavenly cause

And I know if I'll only be true 
To this glorious quest
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm
When I'm laid to my rest

And the world will be better for this
That one man, scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage
To reach the unreachable star


I leave you now with this powerful scene from the 1972 movie Man of La Mancha with Peter O'Toole and Sophia Loren:



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