Man of La Mancha
Mitch Leigh (Music); Joe Darion (Lyrics); Dale Wasserman (Book)
San Jose Playhouse
Before even a word is spoken, Scott Evan Guggenheim directs one of the most gripping, disturbing, and memorable scenes of the evening’s production of Man of La Mancha by San Jose Playhouse. Before us is Julie Engelbrecht’s jarring set design that is too similar to pictures we have seen from our country’s shared border with Mexico: A chain-linked-surrounded compound backed up against a tall, border wall, with foil blankets and little else scattered around a dirty looking bunk bed and a sparse, wooden table with bench.
At the door leading to this compound stands a sour-looking guard in dark glasses and a red cap (one can almost imagine seeing “MAGA” on it). One by one, scared souls clearly of varying nationalities slink along the theater’s aisles and guardrails, only to be grabbed at the gate by the guard, roughed up, and pushed inside. Soon, the cast for the evening’s musical are all on stage, facing us with frightened faces, hands up against an invisible, fourth wall fence separating us and them.
All, that is, except for the final two who now arrive with large trunks. One wears a long, ragged coat with a yellow Star of David on it, reminiscent of the Holocaust. We soon learn they are two actors forced that evening off the stage and imprisoned here among what appear to be present-day, undocumented immigrants. As other prisoners begin pilfering through their trunks to grab needed warm things to wear, we learn the two are playwright, actor, and tax collector Cervantes and his manservant. Both have been brought here as part of an ongoing, church-state-led inquisition – his crime being to foreclose a monastery for not paying its taxes. (Here is where the present day holding cell for immigrants and the late-sixteenth-century Cervantes caught up as a victim of the Spanish Inquisition leaves one scratching their head a bit to reconcile how both can be happening at the same time.)
For the rest of my review, please continue to Talkin’ Broadway.
Rating: 3.5 E
Man of La Mancha continues through June 26, 2022 in performance by San Jose Playhouse at 3 Below Theatres, 288 South 2nd Street, San Jose. Tickets are available online at https://sanjoseplayhouse.org/ .
Photo Credit: David Lepori