October 1, 2023
Michael Sampson--Jon Meader, AJ Paulim and Joe Mayers perform on stage in a number from Man of La Mancha.

“Man of La Mancha,” California Baptist University’s fall musical production of the year, is the gripping story of a man willing to “dream the impossible dream, to fight the unbeatable foe” all for the sake of courage, chivalry and compassion.

From the moment audience members entered the theater and took their seats, the curtain was drawn and actors and actresses were in their places; it was as if the show had already begun. A silent and dismal scene was created as dirty and depraved looking characters sulked in the shadows.

The play is set in Spain in the late 16th century and the entire story is told from the common room of a stone prison vault, while the scenes happen in various places in the imagination of Miguel de Cervantes.

Cervantes (Jon Meader) is an author who works as a tax collector by day in order to pay his bills. He is arrested and placed in prison along with Sancho (AJ Paulin), his servant, for placing a foreclosure on a church that failed to pay its taxes. There, they await The Inquisition.

The opening scene is almost frightening as the prisoners swarm Cervantes and Sancho. They ransack Cervantes and Sancho’s personal items and, finding no value in a pile of papers, go to throw Cervantes’s manuscript in the fire. Cervantes begs to plead his case and, when granted permission by the “Governor” (Danny Lybeck), he begins to tell the story of Don Quixote, the man of La Mancha.

The flow of this play was smooth and comprehendible. One moment, the characters are those which are miserably sitting in prison and the next, those same destitute looking prisoners play the role of the characters in Cervantes’ imagination.

It is a play within a play and it is quite the journey on which these two story lines take the audience. From the excellent music and dance numbers to the comedic relief and the tense drama, this play brought a full range of emotions.

The theater was full of laughter as Don Quixote, a man of valor seeking to be knighted, fights off a windmill believed to be a four-armed giant, mistakes a run-down inn for a castle and defeats a band of roguish brutes in slapstick comedy fashion.

Silly grins sweep across the audience as Don Quixote finds his true love, his fair lady, Aldonza (Kayla Friend), the kitchen help and harlot of the inn.

These grins are soon overshadowed by the fear and concern brought on for Aldonza.

Living in a world where men have treated her horribly all her life and where the meaning of chivalry is lost and forgotten, Aldonza cannot possibly believe the kindness of Don Quixote. All she knows is the brute force and demands of “the muleteers,” who are willing to pay, but do not know how to love.

Sadness and disappointment seep in as realization dawns that Don Quixote is actually Alonso Quijana, a man who has read one too many books on nobility and justice and has lost himself in his fanciful idealism. He is believed to be mad, but in a quote from Cervantes, we learn that the true definition of madness is seeing life as it is and not as it ought to be.

The portrayal of characters, the beautiful solos, the amazing orchestra pieces under the direction of Phillip Miller,professor of music, the dramatic lighting, the fantastic set designed by Lee Lyons, professor of theatre, the realistic makeup thanks to Emily Green and her team and the costumes by Cherie Riley were all executed wonderfully.

The story of Don Quixote came to a close with Alonso Quijana falling ill and dying, but just before he does, Aldonza reminds him of the knight he once was and of his quest “to run where the brave dare not go.”

Back in the prison the prisoners are so moved by Cervantes’ story, the Governor returns to him the manuscript, realizing it is in fact the unfinished story of Don Quixote. Just as this decision is made, Cervantes and Sancho are called forth for their inquisition.

Unaware of what their fate shall be, they depart as the prisoners join in chorus singing Don Quixote’s song, “The Impossible Dream.”

Under the direction of Dan Monroe, Man of La Mancha was a huge success.