Eighteen hours after leaving Rude Guerrilla's new theater space (next door to their old space in Santa Ana's Artists Village)—and its new production, Man of La Mancha—I'm still not sure what it's all about.
There's this guy, Don Miguel de Cervantes (Jonathan Talmadge), who is the fictional representation of the guy who wrote Don Quixote. Cervantes is being held in prison, along with his sidekick Sancho (Cliff Peddicord), awaiting sentencing for presenting entertainment offensive to the Spanish Inquisition. To take his attention off his impending doom and build a case among his fellow prisoners for his outstanding character (in order to save his belongings from being destroyed), Cervantes initiates an enactment of the story of his likably nutty Don Quixote, inviting his fellow prisoners to join in the fun.
Even with an impromptu mid-first-act intermission that had technicians scrambling to get the new space's light board up and running again, it's all lighthearted fun and games. Until the gang rape scene, complete with (limp) full-frontal male nudity. Call me a closet prude, but I'm still unsure how this five-minute, graphically violent scene in which Aldonza is raped by a number of unsavory characters is anything other than gratuitous and unforgivably distracting.
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I get that Cervantes is on trial for presenting offensive entertainment and that this scene is about as offensive as it gets. I also get that knowing that the woman Quixote yearns for (played by Melinda Messenger) can never truly escape her sordid and whorish past is an integral element of the story. But I'm unwilling to accept that these narrative demands give anyone license to turn Man of La Mancha into Abusical the Musical, alienating its audience to such an extent that even the most rousing chorus of "The Impossible Dream" can't make things right.
If he hadn't fixated on finding 10 different ways to violate a woman, director Robert M. Tully might have noticed—and addressed—the fact that, while his cast is more than musically competent, their musical performances come off as costumed concerts, blankly directed at the back wall. Messenger, delivering a remarkably strong performance as Aldonza; Talmadge as Cervantes/Quixote; and Peddicord as Sancho are the exceptions, though their performances could be amazing with attentive direction.
This is generally a dedicated cast; but, sadly, one of the main reasons to check out Rude Guerrilla's Man of La Mancha is to see their new theater space—one I hope will host something less offensive soon.
MAN OF LA MANCHA AT RUDE GUERRILLA THEATRE COMPANY, 202 N. BROADWAY, SANTA ANA, (714) 547-4688. FRI.-SAT., 8 P.M.; SUN., 2:30 P.M. THROUGH APRIL 15. $10-$27.