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Teen Critics: Man of La Mancha

The Teen Critic Program at Shakespeare Theatre Company allows high school students interested in theatre, journalism and/or critical writing the opportunity to learn how to view productions with a critical eye and write a savvy, persuasive theatre review. The Teen Critics attend each production, receive a press packet, preferred press seating and have the opportunity to meet with professional theatre critics from local newspapers before writing their own reviews. 

Here are some excerpts from their reviews of Man of La Mancha.

Nana Gongadze, 11th grade, H.B. Woodlawn

So, who exactly is Don Quixote?

In Dale Wasserman’s 1965 musical, Man of La ManchLAMANCHA_089a, he is a persona taken up by Alonso Quixana, a “country squire” who in is in turn, a character created and played by imprisoned playwright Miguel de Cervantes. This de Cervantes is a fictionalized version of the real life author of the 1605 classic, Don Quixote.

Sound a little confusing? It kind of is. However, for all its degrees of avant gardeness and lack of believability, the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s 2015 staging of the musical, with Alan Paul directing, is technically splendid and engagingly acted.

Roxy Fisher
, 10th grade, homeschool

When I entered the theater the prisoners were already scampering about the stage; I wasn’t late.  Instead of permitting the audience to flip leisurely through the program while waiting for the performance to begin, we were yanked right into the action. The set, a tall enclosed cage that reaches for the ceiling, gives the impression of a trap full of lab rats flickering in and out of fights. The prisoners showed a kind of unity, with traditions seeming to have arisen from their very confinement. The unique way in which they danced– clapping their hands and stomping their feet– gave a rhythm to the play, driving it forward.  The clever way they arranged simple objects to become elements of the story also carried us along.  A mop on top of a bucket represented a horse’s head.  One of the prisoners stood on a higher level in the position of Jesus on the cross to bring us into a church. Some of these artistic choices were risky, but they all worked to constitute great storytelling.

Anna Maydanik, 11th grade, Holton-Arms School

The aesthetic of the stage and the set design perfectly match the musical’s dark notes and topics. Constricted to a box, the stage lacks wings through which the actors can leave. Upon the beginning of the production, the Spanish Inquisition guards introduces Cervantes to the remainder of the cast after walking down a large metal staircase that hangs in the air for the duration of the performance. AlleLAMANCHA_055n Moyer, the Set Designer remarkably designs the staging area to constantly remind the audience of the constant struggle which the characters must endure and the oppression of the justice system at the time. In the center of the stage lies a trapdoor, the only method of exiting the stage during the performance and this contraption only makes the set more realistic and engulfing. Robert Wierzel, the Lighting Director, constantly uses spotlights directed upon a single performer, creating a sense of intimacy. Especially during emotional lyrical routines, the spotlight removes any distractions and allows one to focus on the actor’s vocal performance. Any aspects which dramatize the intensity, better the production as a whole. Adjacent to the stage, a live band performs melodies accompanying the meaningful songs into which the actors pour their souls. The band defeats a recording because the drummers and guitarists add a sense of immediate urgency within the actor’s responses to their environment. The clear sounds from the instruments connect the viewers to the characters and their situations.

Audrey Weber, 11th grade, School Without Walls

The production features phenomenal acting and singing by the entire cast; however, the performances of Don Quixote/Miguel de Cervantes (Anthony Warlow), Aldonza (Amber Iman), and Sancho (Nehal Joshi) were by far the best. Besides being talented actors, all of these individuals had beautiful singing voices that kept the audience entranced in their performances. Although musicals all require talented actors, the primary focus is on their singing ability, and the Man of La Mancha actors do not disappoint. With a cast most likely chosen for their vocal skills, as it is a musical, their acting skills are at the same level required of any strictly verbal actor. Although Anthony Warlow and Amber Iman lead the performance with flawless vocal skills, the entire cast has phenomenal voices that in combination create a wide range of melodic sound.
Emma Paquette, 12th grade, McLean High School

As Quixote’s imagined lady-love Dulcinea– truly the tough-as-nails, jaded barmaid Aldonza– Amber Iman was transcendent. Her prickly exterior soon fell into raw hurt though her passionate and angry song “It’s All the Same.” ImaLAMANCHA_080n let herself loose within the role, fearlessly riding through the rollercoaster of Aldonza’s emotional journey from defeated realism to hope and back down again. Iman’s jazzy, full voice lent itself perfectly to her many ballads and laments.

The musical was not without its comedy, however. Warlow contributed some, due to the utter gravity with which he attacked and windmill and professed his desire to be knighted by an innkeeper. However, the true comedy came from the enthusiastic Nehal Joshi as Sancho, the more sensible but still willing sidekick to Quixote. Joshi’s smile was unshakeable as he played along with every single delusion of his master from sorcerers to legendary golden hats, his deadpan tone giving the character a sarcastic edge that heightened the humor of his lines.

Norah AlJunaidi, 12th grade, Severna Park High School

The choreography and the singing were my favorite part of the play. The soldLAMANCHA_098iers that danced around Aldonza, who is potrayed by Amber Iman, in circles truly showed how tense and scary her situation was as a woman and how trapped she felt. Additionally, Ms. Iman’s voice alone was enough to bring me to tears, and combined with her passion and emotion made it a very moving performance. As an actress, I love the way Iman took total control of her character, displaying her strength against the men trying to assault her even though she is scared.

Shea Christian, 10th grade, Sidwell Friends

One of the aspects of the story that the director, Alan Paul, focuses on is the juxtaposition between the production itself and the play within it. While the overall show is set in an inquisition prison–that is, not an innately cheerful place at all–    the presentation of Don Quixote provides the comic relief necessarily to alleviate this naturally gloomy setting. The actors are a key part in keeping this balance, because many of them play dual, and often conflicting, roles, which keep the play, and the play within the play, in harmonious juxtaposition.

Eli Kern, 10th grade, Robinson Secondary School

Remember back when you were a kid; when nothing and everything seemed impossible, when you believed that you could be anything, and anyone, when the world seemed mystical with all of the fairytales that you heard at bed time. That is the level of imagination and innocence that Man of La Mancha radiates.

Man of La Mancha plays Sidney Harman Hall through May 3.

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