Man of La Mancha

by Robert Bullen

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday October 28, 2009

Danielle Brothers, Sarah Hayes and Anthony Apodaca in Man of La Mancha.
Danielle Brothers, Sarah Hayes and Anthony Apodaca in Man of La Mancha.  

This ain't your grandmother's Man of La Mancha.

You know: the classic musical about the "mad" knight who attacks windmills, as told by a late 17th century inmate named Cervantes to his fellow prisoners as he awaits trial during the Spanish Inquisition.

Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre has staged a daring new production of this classic musical doing what they do best: rebuilding it from the ground up, with intimacy and immediacy front-and-center. The result? A conceptually heavy reimagining of this beloved show that is sometimes brilliant and sometimes overdone - but always entertaining. And, even if Theo Ubique wanted to do a more traditional representation of this show, it was already done, and done quite well, at Theatre at the Center just a hot second ago. (Read the EDGE review of that production here.)

What's been changed? First off, the dual roles of Cervantes/Don Quixote are played by a woman, Danielle Brothers. But don't let that concern you - Brothers has a belt so deep and resonant (think a singing Kathleen Turner, but down even a few more octaves), it surpasses some of the miscast tenors I've seen play the role in other productions. Not only that, but Brothers is a very fine actress. Every moment is layered with honesty, passion and yearning. It's a staggering performance for many reasons.

Oh, but the fun doesn't stop there. As mentioned, director David Heimann has moved the show up 300 years, setting it in a modern day mental ward, which results in lots of crazy playing out on stage, complete with paper mache puppets doubling as actors, doctors overlooking the action in scrubs, and straightjackets. In other words: Don Quixote seems pretty sane by comparison.

Not a word or note has been changed in adapting to Heimann's concept, and it works...for the most part. Mention of the looming Spanish Inquisition and the threat of the inmates/patients burning Cervantes' manuscript lose some impact, naturally. Also, while the score is very well represented by the four-person band, the choral work by the otherwise immensely talented ensemble takes a beating in their need to remind us they are still mental patients putting on a show.

Thankfully, key supporting parts are very well filled, with Aldonza fiercely represented by the impressive Sarah Hayes - who excels both during the very brutal rape scene and late in the second act, and Don Quixote's loyal side-kick Sancho, played by the endearing Anthony Apodaca. Maggie Portman (who also doubled as our server before the show and at intermission - it's that kind of venue) also stands out as Antonia and is credited with staging the appropriately raw choreography.

I would note that this is one of those conceptual productions that only really succeeds if you've seen a traditional production of La Mancha before. Otherwise, you might find yourself like my partner, who, having never seen the show before, was confused. A bunch of crazies in jail? What?

However, I deeply appreciate it when artists take a risk and commit to establishing a truly theatrical environment, which are both done here with courage and heart - just like Don Quixote himself.

Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre's production of Man of La Mancha plays through Nov. 22 at No Exit Cafe, 6970 N. Glenwood Ave. For more information, visit Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre's website.

A native midwesterner, Robert is a self-confessed Chicago theatre addict. You can read more about his addiction at