Performing Arts

Theater review: ‘Man of La Mancha’

Martin Antonio Guerra portrays Miguel de Cervantes in Artes de la Rosa’s Man of La Mancha.
Martin Antonio Guerra portrays Miguel de Cervantes in Artes de la Rosa’s Man of La Mancha.

With his booming voice and commanding presence, Martin Antonio Guerra is a terrific choice to play the title character in the musical Man of La Mancha.

But if you want to see him at full potential in such a textured role, it’ll have to be in a production other than the muddled and misguided concept the show gets under the direction of Adam Adolfo for Artes de la Rosa at the Rose Marine Theater.

Adolfo has never been safe with his directing choices, and that’s laudable. But in this case that sense of adventure gets the best of him.

The 1965 musical is inspired by Miguel Cervantes’ Don Quixote — but it’s not merely a musical version of that masterpiece’s plot. In fact, the titular man is Cervantes, not Quixote. They are indelibly intertwined, though.

In the musical, Cervantes is imprisoned in the Spanish Inquisition and in his argument for release, he and his fellow prisoners act out the story of the windmill-chasing Quixote; it’s a play within a play.

Adolfo has chosen to celebrate the musical’s 50th anniversary with a concept that betrays the spirit of the source novel and the musical. Also, it’s criminal that the musical’s creators — book by Dale Wasserman, music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion — aren’t mentioned anywhere in the program.

His idea: Cervantes is a modern war vet suffering from PTSD and in a mental institution. The move from a 16th-century prison to a contemporary psych ward isn’t such a stretch; it’s that the PTSD designation changes his motivation.

In writing about the show’s signature song, The Impossible Dream, Wasserman (who also wrote an earlier teleplay based on Don Quixote; and interestingly, given Adolfo’s vision, the play version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) said that its meaning is often wrongly applied to “ventures that may be somewhat difficult but perfectly possible.”

However, “the dream, to be valid, must be impossible,” something that we know won’t happen even for the eternal optimist Don Quixote. There’s even an adjective derived from his name: quixotic, meaning foolishly impractical.

Adolfo calls his reimagining a “contemporary nightmare,” but a nightmare can be recovered from. There is not a cure for PTSD, but there are sources of therapy. We’ve seen the stories of veterans hurdling the obstacles and living a relatively happy life. Keeping the character in the depths of despair leaves Guerra with nowhere to go. It’s how he’s directed, but it’s tough to watch him hold back.

It doesn’t help that in his biggest chance to showcase the character’s resolve, Impossible Dream, Adolfo has him sitting in a corner singing while center stage is occupied by a couple dancing a ballet. It’s beautifully choreographed by Maegan Marie Stewart, but it’s another derailment of intent.

Vocally, the show’s leads — Guerra, Sarah Powell as Aldonza/Dulcinea and David Goza as Sancho — are outstanding (with music direction by Kristin Spires), and the five-person orchestra is lovely. However, vocals and acting in the ensemble are uneven.

But even with a uniformly first-rate group of singers and actors, there’s no overcoming Adolfo’s anvil-heavy conceit, which is mirrored by Bradley Gray’s purposefully dreary gray set and recorded interviews with PTSD sufferers played before the show and during intermission.

There’s not the remotest glimmer of optimism, no matter how hopeless, no matter how far.

Man of La Mancha

▪ Through May 31

▪ Rose Marine Theater, 1440 N. Main St., Fort Worth

▪ $13-$16

▪ 817-624-8333; www.artesdelarosa.org

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