MAN OF LA MANCHA, through Oct. 18, Hale Center Theater Orem (801-226-8600). Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes (one intermission).
OREM — Performing a play set in a prison where the inmates perform a play of their own could potentially be a tricky proposition, with each actor responsible for two roles and having to make the audience believe they've been transported to one place only to be whisked away to another without the help of a change in scenery.
Of course, this is precisely what's called for in "Man of La Mancha," and Hale Center Theater Orem does an great job bringing home all of the beauty and emotion contained in this classic show.
"Man of La Mancha" begins with Miguel de Cervantes (Richard Wilkins in the Monday, Wednesday, Friday cast) and his manservant being thrown into jail by the Spanish Inquisition. Cervantes finds himself being put on trial by his fellow inmates, so to win them over he enlists them to tell his tale of "Don Quixote de La Mancha."
In Cervantes' play, Alonso Quijana is a man who, after having seen the inhumanity of the world, pushes aside his sanity to become "Don Quixote," a knight errant. He is joined by Sancho Panza (Joshua Tenny), his trusty sidekick. In their travels, they end up at an inn where rough characters pass their time. While there, Quijana sees the prostitute Aldonza (Kathryn Laycock Little) and dubs her Dulcinea, his lady fair.
Of course, while all of this is going on, Quijana's family is mortified that he is going about acting the fool and works to stop him. Through it all, the message is oft alluded to that people should not let the stark realities of life get in the way of living life to the fullest, and those around him begin to see the hidden wisdom in Don Quixote's ways.
The theater's walls are painted like a dark, stone prison, setting the right tone for the show.
The Hale Theater has assembled a fine cast, and leading the way in this production is Little, who imbues Aldonza with plenty of attitude and pain but with just the right touch of vulnerability. Little's voice, too, is something to be heard, and she's downright heartbreaking when she forces Quijano to see her for what she is in the song "Aldonza."
Although Wilkins as Cervantes doesn't have a voice like Little's (like a Robert Preston or a Rex Harrison, he doesn't hold too many of the notes in the songs), he is a commanding presence and brings the right amount of gravity with a bit of whimsy to Cervantes and Don Quixote.
It's also fun to note that Wilkins first played the role in 1970 while courting a fellow cast member, Melany, and both of them, now married, are in the show together again.
Also giving strong performances are Tenny as the sweet and simple Sancho and Rickey Carter as the Padre, who shines in the soft and beautiful "To Each His Dulcinea."
Sensitivity rating: As anyone acquainted with the show will know, for a family show "Man of La Mancha" has a few things that might make a conservative audience squirm a bit, but the Hale Theater is to be commended for touching on these elements without overplaying them, but not watering them down too much, either.