‘Man of La Mancha’ captures imagination and ideals

Limited run weekend for 35th anniversary show

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Celebrating their 35th year in providing the community with high-quality and locally minded theatrical experiences, the Noel S. Ruiz Theater hit the high bar set by their founder in their production of “Man of La Mancha” for a limited weekend run on Saturday, Feb. 12 and Sunday, Feb. 13.

“Man of La Mancha” is of particular importance and sentimental value as it was the opening play in 1997, directed by the man who bears the theater’s name.

Current director, Matt Surico, said in a previous interview with the Suffolk County News that he would take his cue from Ruiz’s style as a tribute to the theatre’s late namesake and celebration of how Ruiz viewed the world and believed in local theatre.

The fantastical framed story of an imprisoned Miguel de Cervantes telling the tale of “knight errant” Don Quixote has its challenges, as its large ensemble cast and multiple parts can be confusing to an audience.

But this production handled the transitions and double play beautifully, with sparse but keenly indicative prop and costume changes to indicate placement.

In the introduction of The Padre, the stage was set with a simple, small bench and two trellis dividers, serving as a confessional of sorts.

Ryan Nolin, in the role of The Padre, landed plenty of laughs and solemn moments in his concerned, tender, but serious performance.

Andrew J. Beck as Sancho Panza and particularly Brendan Noble as the Inn Keeper were also wonderful comic relief, with the latter’s delivery of reticent lines in contrast to his overarching wife, played by Samantha Free.

The standout of the production was the ethereal and artistically driven lighting throughout the show with Deryn Gabor, the lighting designer, clearly demonstrating a genuflection and understanding of great masters of painting.

In the opening scene, there is a moment of deep chiaroscuro on stage that painted a fitting Caravaggio-like scene, with glimmers of light facing off the metallic elements of the props.

With costumes indicative but not over-the-top, Ronald Green III captured the essence of the characters and lent his design well to the intricate choreography (especially of the fight and rape scenes).

The color palette of browns, taupes, and greys contrasted well to Aldonza’s blood-red skirt and the gypsy dancer’s bright costume.

Even the horses had impressive garb, with faces and bodies a cross between Guillermo del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth” characters and the whimsy of a high-end hipster toy company.

The brilliance of Surico’s stage direction and Jon Rivera’s portrayal of Cervantes/Quixote is to let the audience indulge in wanting to believe in the goodness, nobility, and higher arch of the man from La Mancha who attacks windmills.

The question of madness versus magnanimity is central to the play, and Surico’s cast is constantly caught in the internal battle of which to believe.

Bob Mittleman as The Duke/Dr. Carrasco is the sane voice, and played with such control and biting arrogance by Mittleman, but often hurtful in the plain language, and leaves the audience wanting the false grandiosity of Quixote because it brings with it a beautiful vision of life.

The flutes, played by Jennifer Haley and Nic Digena, were centerstage in the alternately uplifting/tragically reposed music of the play.

“The Quest (The Impossible Dream)” is the most famous song of “Man of La Mancha,” and the orchestra, conducted by Eric Albinder, fulfilled the promise of the song to the audience with the little flutters in melody, followed by the encompassing score.

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