PUBLISHED: September 12, 2017 at 4:38 pm | UPDATED: September 12, 2017 at 11:04 pm
“When life seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies?” That quotation feels completely of-the-moment, but it comes from Miguel de Cervantes’ four-century-old “Don Quixote.”
“That quote has been ringing in my ear every day I read the paper and scratch my head and think, ‘Where do I live? Who are my neighbors?” says Peter Rothstein, whose Theater Latte Da opens the “Don Quixote”-inspired “Man of La Mancha” this weekend. “It’s our 20th-anniversary season and we wanted to open with something that is about the power of storytelling, the power of theater.”
Martin Sola, Zachary Garcia and Andre Shoals rehearse a scene from Theater Latte Da’s modern-day “Man of La Mancha.” (Emilee Elofson/Theater Latte Da)
“Man of La Mancha” is a musical theater classic. But if you’re remembering a guy in a feathered hat and a waistcoat singing “The Impossible Dream,” you should not expect that image in Latte Da’s take, which Rothstein describes as contemporary and political.
Inspired by the fact that “La Mancha” features a play-within-a-play, Latte Da is reimagining the musical in a waiting room, where a diverse group of people brings to life Cervantes’ story of the dreamer, Don Quixote, his loyal sidekick, Sancho Panza, and his muse, who is variously known as Dulcinea and Aldonza. Originally set during the Spanish Inquisition, with Cervantes awaiting trial, this “La Mancha” takes place in an uncertain present.
The opportunity to reflect the diverse community in which we live and “to bring hope to a world that seems to be without it” has returned Rothstein to “La Mancha” for the first time since Grand Rapids High School, when he played The Padre in the show.
Peter Rothstein at a 2014 rehearsal for “Cabaret.” (John Autey/Pioneer Press)
” ‘Man of La Mancha’ is set in a medieval prison, during the Spanish Inquisition and it’s described as ‘a common room for those who wait,’ ” Rothstein says. “I was thinking, ‘What would that look like in contemporary society?’ ”
Latte Da won’t be specifying the common room in which its characters wait. Is it the Department of Motor Vehicles? An immigration holding facility? A police station? An airport? But Rothstein thinks most audience members will be able to relate to the powerlessness of being in the sort of place where we await our fates at the hands of bureaucracy.
“I’ve been stuck in Customs. I was out of the country, doing research, during 9/11 and I was put in a waiting room, waiting to talk to someone,” Rothstein says. “The space is a structure you don’t necessarily agree with — especially in our present political situation — and it’s about, ‘Where do you find your voice inside of that structure?’ ”
Those feelings of powerlessness are not just theoretical in this “Man of La Mancha.” Rothstein had cast an actor from Colombia for this production, but efforts to get her a work visa were denied and, ultimately, the role had to be re-cast.
Casting, in general, was tricky, according to Rothstein.
“It’s a fairly tall order. There’s not a lot of music inside the work, so I knew I wanted actors who could handle the language. And we’re doing it with 11 actors, so I knew they’d be playing multiple roles,” says Rothstein. “I was also looking for diversity in all sorts of ways and I knew I needed smart actors who want to have these conversations but also have strong singing and acting chops.”
Broadway veteran Martin Sola left the Gloria Estefan musical, “On Your Feet,” to make his Latte Da debut as Quixote. Meghan Kreidler, whose musical appearances have included Mu Performing Arts’ “Flower Drum Song,” will play Aldonza/Dulcinea. And the cast boasts Latte Da veterans Sara Ochs (“Sweeney Todd”), Dan Hopman (“Into the Woods”) and Andre Shoals (“Ragtime”).
They will all be in modern dress in this stripped down “Man of La Mancha,” which the director describes as “exquisite and primitive,” in keeping with the imaginative work done by Twin Cities theater company Ten Thousand Things, for whom he directed “Doubt” and “Once on This Island.”
“When you look at the Inquisition, it’s interesting that the day Columbus sailed to America was the beginning of it. And that, under the Inquisition, those who practiced Judaism had to convert to Catholicism or be imprisoned. It’s not so terribly far-fetched,” says Rothstein, a former altar boy who notes that, despite the original setting, one of the play’s most sympathetic characters is a Catholic priest. “I’m not saying we are living in the Spanish Inquisition. But when you read the paper, when you watch the news, there are ideologies that are frighteningly familiar.”
In other words, the setting of this modern “Man of La Mancha” is designed to do two things: To ask audiences to reflect on how much things have changed in the 400 years since Cervantes’ day. And to reflect on how much they haven’t.
IF YOU GO
- What: “Man of La Mancha”
- When: Through Oct. 22
- Where: Ritz Theater, 345 13th Ave. NE, Mpls.
- Tickets: $47-$39, 612-339-3003 or latteda.org