In this interview in the Bucks County Courier Times, Robert Newman gives good insight into how we are approaching this show:
Heart of darkness, and humor, in "La Mancha" at Bristol Riverside Theatre
By Gwen Shrift, staff writer | Tuesday, May 10, 2016
The setting of a celebrated drama is a prison, the inmates traumatized by the terroristic regime who put them there — yet a deranged hero is capable of creating a beautiful world in his mind, and expressing it eloquently.
As the Bristol Riverside Theatre readies its production of "Man of La Mancha," parallels from our own age surface in director Keith Baker's approach, according to Robert Newman, the TV and stage veteran who plays the addled Knight of the Woeful Countenance in the musical based on Miguel Cervantes' 17th-century novel, "Don Quixote."
Baker motivated his cast by likening the effects of Cervantes' era on its people, most keenly voiced in the hero's second-act monologue on war, to contemporary concerns.
"He and I work in very similar ways. We're seekers of truth," said Newman of the director. "He called me several months ago, and we talked about this sort of darker side of this piece. It's taking place in this dungeon, where people are waiting to be taken to the place of execution . . . and burned alive. The inmates and other victims of the time were irrevocably shocked to the core by the Spanish Inquisition, a centuries-long campaign that sanctioned torture and resulted in persecution, and execution, of suspected heretics. The director compares the characters' psychological state to post-traumatic stress disorder as suffered by combat veterans in modern times. "These (characters) are all people imprisoned by the terror of their experiences," said Baker. "They often exhibit irrational rage, childishness, self-hatred. I just wanted to bring that to bear in the behavior of the people. They've been through wars, they're murderers, they're thieves. They've been subjected to immense terror."
In our own time, "We have our soldiers returning home and we don't know what to do with them, and don't treat them well, and let them fend for themselves. There are people who have come back from Vietnam and are still suffering, and we do nothing."
Newman said these insights inform a production that, for various reasons, differs markedly from previous portrayal of the Knight three years ago at The Barn Theatre in Augusta, Michigan. The TV star who for 24 years played Joshua Lewis on "Guiding Light" wryly points out that during the earlier "La Mancha," he was three years younger and lighter. "I've spent months thinking about this character. Now, (I'm) processing other thoughts that Keith brings into my interpretation of Quixote, and sort of let go what I might have done three years ago," he said. "It's one of the most exhausting characters you can play on stage. You're playing three different roles at the same time," the actor said, likening Don Quixote to Tevye from "Fiddler on the Roof." There's "a mile of dialog all the time, and at a very fast pace . . . (it's) physically and mentally exhausting, but they're the best characters you can play.
"You really have to put everything you have in this piece, otherwise, why do it? It's the kind of exhaustion that lifts your soul. It's all good." The actor said his time on TV, with its demand to "memorize dialog, process blocking and movement" helped develop stamina for the stage, his favorite artistic setting. "You've got to make decisions quickly, and make them strong," he said.
For all the bleakness of its setting, "Man of La Mancha" deals with the delicacy of the human mind and spirit. It is a play within a play, as Cervantes — one of the facets of the leading character — purposefully stages the story of Don Quixote with the other prisoners. The Knight is legendarily off-kilter, in his sweetly dissonant version of life a champion who performs noble deeds, but to others, a madman. His sidekick, Sancho, has a bit of fun at his master's expense, lightening dark places with humor.
Newman said he enjoys the relationship between Don Quixote and his servant, working out the nuances with fellow actor Danny Rutigliano, who plays Sancho. "We are finding the funny where we can find the funny," Newman said. "I don't want to paint this as a dark play. It's an uplifting play, and an inspiring play."
Also in the cast are Sharon Alexander, Julian Brightman, Lauren Cupples, Robert Farruggia, Tamra Hayden, Christopher Roche, Dwayne Alistair Thomas and Danny Vaccaro. Ensemble: Rajeer Alford, Daniel Bontempo, Elena Camp, Will Connell, Stephen Dagrosa, John DiFerdinando, Kevin Murray, Victor Rodriguez and Dwayne Washington.
Musical direction by Darren Cohen; set by Roman Tatarowicz, costumes by Linda Bee Stockton, choreography by Stephen Casey, lighting by Ryan O'Gara and sound by Liz Atkinson.