What I learned. . .

One of the challenges of this production was knitting a cast of 34 actors comprised of several Equity adult professionals, a few people from the community, many MFA students, and a cadre of BA students into a cohesive ensemble.  Having a generous rehearsal schedule helped.  I also worked to keep the story clear. . .  to never lose the sense we were in a prison, no matter where Cervantes’ story took us – and to never lose track of the fact that Cervantes’ fellow prisoners became the actors in the play-within-the-play.  I’d seen productions of La Mancha which had left me more confused than illuminated on this account, and I did my best to avoid that confusion.

It was also an exercise in sculpting the space.  Chris Pickart’s terrific prison set consisted of an upper level on which people could enter, a broad staircase that descended into the “holding room” of the prison, and not much else, except three walls, some high windows, and a big flat playing space.  I summoned all my skills as “traffic cop,” and worked hard to keep the focus where it belonged, all the while trying to make sure that every single actor in the production was able to be moment-to-moment specific.

I started rehearsals very uncertain about the outcome, and was more than a little surprised when the production turned out to be as strong as it was.

Man of La Mancha

Clarence Brown Theatre

April, 2010

David Kortemeier, Neil Friedman

“A triumph.”

“Separating a justified dreamer from just a fool is the soul of a poet in director Paul Barnes’ brilliantly conceived version of Man of La Mancha which opened to a captivated audience at the University of Tennessee’s Clarence Brown Theatre Friday night.  Performed on an equally brilliant and ingeniously designed set by Christopher Pickart, Barnes keeps the action tight.  So, fair warning, take care of any necessaries before the music starts, because you won’t get another chance for the well over two hours Barnes’ production will pull you into its enthralling storytelling.”

    Harold Duckett

    Knoxville News-Sentinel

“The people who have to be dragged to see Clarence Brown’s production of Man of La Mancha are the ones who will be most surprised by it.  They’ll find out, as this reviewer did, seeing it for the first time in 45 years after first hearing of it, Man of La Mancha is not a sappy feel-good musical.  

“The play’s performed without an intermission, without a scene change, and in fact, without a curtain.  It’s a little over two hours without a break, like a lot of movies, but even with only one scene and a 45-year old script, this play may hit you harder than any movie this year.  

“The CBT goes all out in a way worthy of the set designers of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  In the colorfully gloomy and complex two-story prison of battered brick walls, a giant gear turns and appears to lift a gate and raise a drawbridge for every ominous entry of soldiers.  The large cast, always animated, keeps the stage busy, and on a couple of occasions cooperate in some complex slapstick as carefully choreographed as ballet, and more interesting to watch.  The bizarre Knight of the Mirrors, [is] a technically startling apparition in this production.”

    George Logan

    Metro Pulse