Last night the touring company of Man of La Mancha came to Athens, and PJ and I went to see it. Man of La Mancha is one of my favorite musicals, so I was excited to have the chance to see it. La Mancha doesn’t get the acclaim of such musicals as Gypsy, West Side Story, or My Fair Lady, especially among gay men. But I love it.
The touring company production was pretty good, but I’m not a fair critic — I’m as irrational in my love for Don Quixote de la Mancha, Aldonza, and Sancho Panza as I am in my love for Luke, Leia, and Darth Vader. Like Star Wars, La Mancha was one of my childhood obsessions.
In junior high, I was in drama — or “theater arts,” as it was called. In 9th grade, our teacher, Mrs. Stansbury, decided that a non-musical version of Man of La Mancha would be the one-act play we would perform for the spring season. I was assigned the part of Dr. Carrasco.
In order to get us ready for our parts, she lent some of us her soundtrack of the original cast recording, which not only had all of the songs but most of the dialogue too. I immediately fell in love with it, and so I taped it so that I could have my own copy, which I listened to practically non-stop for years. (Unfortunately, due to various issues concerning the annual junior high drama competition we participated in, we ended up not doing a play at all that year.)
I was particularly drawn to the play’s exploration — if that’s not too strong a word — of reality vs. idealism, of life as it is vs. life as it ought to be, of whether it’s madness to accept life as it is (a “dung heap,” as Aldonza calls it) or to make your own world through imagination. Now, I’m not saying that we should all go crazy and pretend to be Medieval knights, but clearly this is a musical about the theater — the role of theater in a society of gender and class inequity and oppression. I don’t think it’s going too far to say that this work participates in the same discussions of the role of theater in society raised by such scholars as Martin Esslin and W. B. Worthen.
And let’s face it: what budding 13-year-old homosexual wouldn’t fall in love with Aldonza, the hardened prostitute with a heart of gold?!