The Man of La Mancha – Don Quixote at Centaur Theatre

The lights of life seem to shine most brilliantly when they illuminate adventure. Don Quixote, man of La Mancha, is a man who is fed up with the cheap track lighting of reality. He seeks the bright big time lights of knight errantry. A world he discovers through total immersion in the realm of renaissance literature. Who’s to say if he has what it takes? Does it take the man or his mind to make a knight errant?

The show opens sparsely with Don Quixote (played fantastically by Peter Anderson) at his home switching speedily from book to book, never letting the audience see his face. Once he shows it to the audience it is strangely beautiful, a mixture of man and his mask. It seems to scream of missed opportunities and missed news. A man under too many pressures awakes to find a world ripe for the taking. He grabs the armor of his great, great, great, great grandfather, straps it on and sets out.

Quickly realizing a knight errant needs a squire, he teams up with Sancho Panza, who is plagued with a wife who resembles the blunt end of a garden hose and 6 young children Sancho is only too happy to abandon. Their first fight finds them in an inn (mistaken to be a castle), where they fight with peasants and through an odd turn of events ends in Don Quixote being knighted by the inn keeper. Their second adventure pits them against the famous windmills he takes to be giants. The brilliant and giant windmill drops down from stage right fantastically. (Windmill and set design by David Roberts) Don Quixote, in midst of a song, sings his way towards it and jumps on the windmill. He draws his sword, fighting the windmill who he believes to be a giant. The windmill turns, taking him up to the ceiling, along its arm and once the smoke clears, back down to the floor. The windmill is the most impressive stage prop in the whole show and the company definitely uses it to its full advantage. No giant can contain him.

Michel Perron & Peter Anderson. Photo by David Cooper

Having a few battles behind him he decides he needs a woman. He remembers a neighboring farm girl, Aldonza Lorenzo, and claims her as his lady love, the Dulcinea del Toboso. Now with a muse, squire and a few fights behind him, he seeks a challenge worthy of a knight. He soon fights a barber and his son who kick his ass after he slays all there sheep believing them to be worthy adversaries. He gets caught and thrown in prison.

Act two opens and he breaks free thanks to a beautifully positioned escape rope. He gets sucked into a royal party once he is recognized. Understanding that his exploits have now been written about, it puffs him up and his ego blinds him to the fact that his hosts are making fun of him (a la Diner de Cons). His last battle is a real battle, one deemed worthy of a knight errant. He is blindfolded at the dinner, placed on horseback and fighting gallantly against the Knight of the Mirrors he loses, maybe because of a loose saddle, maybe not. The fight is a beautiful slow motion scene which stands to be reviled this year on stage. His final battle leaves him a broken, dejected and defeated man. He returns to his homestead in La Mancha and dies with dignity, a knight returned from his adventures, in a real bed.

The play was a brilliant one. Directed by Roy Surette, and written for the stage by Colin Heath and Peter Anderson it took a new take on an old story. It was composed and produced by the Vancouver’s Arts Club Theatre Company a co-production with the Axis Theatre Company, both from Vancouver. The lighting schemes together with the original props created a gorgeous, surreal situation unmatched this year in English language theatre. And finally, the masks designed by Melody Anderson were used to their fullest potential, and gave this familiar story a unique twist. The masks really allowed the actors to integrate themselves into the fantastical situations in which they were engulfed. Cheers on a great production.

4 stars baby!

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