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Powerful play never finds its center; production runs out of steam



Published: Mon, June 13, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Things didn't go well, right from the beginning of the show.

By J.E. BALLANTYNE JR.

SPECIAL TO THE VINDICATOR

Quite frankly when I heard that Stage Left Players was doing "Man of LaMancha," I was thrilled. Having seen it numerous times and it's being one of my favorite shows, I looked forward to Friday's opening night in Lisbon. By 10:25 p.m., however, when I left the theater, I found myself being very disappointed in the entire evening.

I guess I should have been suspect at the outset when the show got off to a very uneven and uncertain start by an unimaginative and sloppy entrance of the cast before the show began and then having to sit and wait for the overture to begin. With no reason for the cast to be onstage in full view of the audience, I felt that I was at a wax museum. But then, much of the show had stilted and poorly done blocking.

In many cases, however, if that is the only problem, you can usually overlook it and press on with the meat of the show. But in this case the blocking was only the beginning. Jeff Hendrickson of East Liverpool has the demanding and powerful dual role of Miguel de Cervantes and Don Quixote. Granted, it was a very warm and muggy night, and I am sure that the heat was intensified on stage even more than in the house. But Hendrickson had no passion in this role whatever. As a matter of fact, there was very little, if any, difference between the two characters he played.

Huge challenge

Without knowing the show, you may not know when he was being which character. It is the abundance of substance in each role that makes this character such a challenge to play. There was very little here.

Quixote's sidekick, Sancho Panza is played here by Nick Opritza. Opritza is well known to Youngstown audiences. He has done this role before, and I must say he fared better in the earlier production. Opritza had some of the better moments in the show Friday, but it was evident that his vast talent was squelched by an off-track production.

Aldonza, the firebrand slut at the inn, whom Quixote sees as his virtuous lady, is played by Kandace Cleland. Cleland would have been fine had she put more fire and grit into the role. As it is, the character change between the beginning and end of the show is scarcely noticeable, whereas it should be definitive.

The entire show seems to suffer from an acute lack of understanding of the subject matter. Director Adam Roberts totally missed many comic and emotional moments that could have played out nicely, especially at the very end when I thought it would work until Antonia (Quixote's niece) block tackles Aldonza into the front row, destroying the entire scene.

The set (or lack thereof) must also take some blame. The usual set design calls for a long, heavy stairway at center stage that is raised and lowered to access the prison room where the show takes place. The stairway in this production was a small fixed staircase semi-visible stage left. The whole point of the center staircase is that it is, in fact, another "character" in the show. It defines the power and the oppression that was the Inquisition. When the staircase moves, the entire mood of the scene and the show changes. This was sorely missed in this production.




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