Playing the lead in “Man of La Mancha,” which opens Wednesday at PCPA’s Marian Theatre, requires lead actor David Studwell to do three times the work. He has to play author Miguel de Cervantes, sitting in a jail cell during the Spanish Inquisition, and his creation Don Quixote, who is under the illusion that he is actually a knight of the realm and not an old country squire. That’s a lot to hold together in one’s head.
“The play is as much about Cervantes as it is about Quixote,” Mr. Studwell says.
Dale Wasserman’s musical, with lyrics by Joe Darion and music by Mitch Leigh, started off as a teleplay called “I, Don Quixote.” Mr. Wasserman then adapted the play into a musical, all the while having to tell people that it was neither an adaptation of Cervantes’ book nor of the author’s life. It was more a tribute, with a play within a play as its central conceit, as Cervantes plays Quixote for the other prisoners as a way of making his case. The musical went on to win the 1966 Tony award for Best Musical.
For Mr. Studwell, it’s a welcome return to a theater he worked at between 2000 to 2007 as a resident artist and instructor. He currently freelances in New York state.
“This is a role that I’ve wanted to do for many, many years,” he says. “But I realize it’s a role you have to grow into, until I got to a more mature stage in my career” (he laughs) “And that’s where I am now.”
Mark Herrier directs the musical, with choreography by Michael Jenkinson, musical direction by Matthew R. Meckes and scenic design by Jason Bolen.
For Mr. Herrier, this is his first time as a director at PCPA.
“After 40 years wandering the world on my own personal quest, I have finally come home,” said Mr. Herrier in a press release. “To return to the theatre that was my start and inspiration, which gave me the foundation to make all my wildest dreams come true, is for me, and quite simply, profound.”
Also in the cast is Leo Cortez as Sancho, Julie Garnye as Aldonza, Peter S. Hadres as Captain of the Inquisition, Erik Stein as Governor/Innkeeper, Andrew Philpot as Dr. Carrasco/The Duke, Michael Jenkinson as Padre, George Walker as Pedro, Matt Koenig as Anselmo, Kitty Balay as Maria, Elizabeth Stuart as Houskeeper and Karin Hendricks as Antonia.
“Many of the cast members I’ve worked with before because they were here when I was here, so there’s a bit of a shorthand that we can use,” Mr. Studwell says.
“It’s nice to come back to a place that I’m familiar with,” says Mr. Studwell. “It’s nice to see that thrust stage, one of my favorite kind of stages to perform on. I like how the younger company interacts with the more seasoned professionals. I enjoy the philosophy and mission of the theater … Seven years was a long time in one place for an actor. It was really a blessing.”
To tie all his characters together, Mr. Studwell says that the ending scene has helped him find the center of his complex character.
“Cervantes says ‘God help us, but we are both Men of La Mancha,’ ” he says. “That line tells me that they are the same. One is a poet and a visionary, and that creating illusion is an important thing … And Don Quixote is also a man who lives in a world of illusion. Both are trying to do the same thing: to communicate to people who don’t think like them that you don’t need to see the world in black and white. You can see the world in brighter colors and different ways.”
“Man of La Mancha”
When: 1:30 p.m. Wednesday and Saturday, July 11, at Marian Theater; July 17-August 16 Tuesday through Sunday, 1:30 p.m., Solvang Festival Theater
Where: Marian Theater, 800 S. College Dr., Santa Maria; Solvang Festival Theater, 420 2nd St., Solvang
Information: (805) 922-8313, www.pcpa.org