When Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra wrote 'Don Quixote', he meant it as a satire of the chivalric romances that were popular in his day. Those stories, featuring superhuman knights performing the most fantastic feats, are comparable to the most outrageous kung-fu films that we see in movies today. Consequently, Don Quixote was written as a crazed lunatic, the perfect channel by which to highlight the absurdities of the romances.
The Don Quixote that we associate with idealism came much later, and was probably best typified by Dale Wasserman's 1965 musical, "Man of La Mancha," later turned into a movie starring Peter O'Toole and Sophia Loren in 1972. This is the vehicle by which many of us know the story of Don Quixote. The centerpiece of his idealism is, of course, the song "The Impossible Dream."
Although I eagerly awaited the movie when it came out on TV, I confess I fell asleep because of the slow pacing. So it was with mixed emotions that I went to watch Silliman University's production of "Man of La Mancha." Excitement: finally, a chance to see the whole story through; and dread: would I fall asleep in the middle of the play? The horror!
I needn't have feared on the second account. The local production, directed by Evelyn Rose Aldecoa, succeeded on many levels and kept the entire audience, myself included, riveted throughout its entire performance. If any heads were nodding, it was simply because they were keeping time with the familiar songs.
What first captured my fancy was the meticulous set design. The entire play takes place in a prison and it would have been quite easy to put something together and leave it entirely to the imagination of the audience. But the production outdid itself with a well-executed pseudo-stonework that evoked the feeling of a communal prison. That certainly set the mood for the entire play.
Ultimately, though, it's the cast that really draws the audience in. There were many stellar performances throughout. Lead characters Rosbert Christian Salvoro (Sancho Panza), Jose Rene Oliva (Governor/Innkeeper), William Christopher Dichoso (Duke/Dr. Carrasco) had wonderful stage presence. Oliva was appropriately commanding, while Dichoso was skepticism and menace personified. Salvoro, though, captured the levity of Sancho to a tee; he need not have said a word to convey that he was Sancho.
This being a musical, the singers in the cast also had a chance to shine. Aldecoa chose well when she placed the cast members with the best vocal range in the more poignant songs. These were the parts played by Francis Mark Disocoro Fellizar (Padre), Rimar Donna Elesterio (Antonia) and Blanche C. Banot (Housekeeper). Their singing left a haunting touch to the songs "To Each His Dulcinea" and "Psalm", and a bit of comedy to "I'm Only Thinking of Him."
But the real star of the show was Earnest Hope Tinambacan, essaying the dual role of Miguel Cervantes and Don Quixote. It may have helped greatly that Tinambacan's build and profile approximates Peter O'Toole, whose image that comes to mind when we think of Don Quixote, but that alone would not have carried the play. As it was, it served merely to enhance his nuanced performance. Every gesture, every tone, convinced you that he was Don Quixote. Moreover, he had a voice that effortlessly rang clear through the auditorium whether he was speaking or singing.
And where would Don Quixote be without his inspiration Dulcinea? "Man of La Mancha," done right, is a play within a play within a play. You have the prison. You have the play acted out by Cervantes and the prisoners. And finally, you have the imaginary world of Don Quixote. The first two are plain enough to see, but the last one requires a sensitive performance to draw the audience in.
This can only works if the actress playing Alonza manages the subtle change into Dulcinea that comes over her as she is drawn into Don Quixote's wild imagination. Sheila Omaguing, playing Alonza, carries this wonderfully well. As Alonza the barmaid, she is loud, uncouth, ill-mannered, and vicious. But when Don Quixote sings his love songs, she becomes another woman entirely.
All in all, a magnificent production, the only shame being that it was planned for only two runs.
A final bit of trivia, Cervantes was never put on trial by the Inquisition, as portrayed in the play. He did go to prison but this was for irregularities in his accounts as purchasing agent for the Spanish armada. Then again, it doesn't matter. As Don Quixote says in the play "Facts are the enemy of the truth!"