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Out & About: 'Man of La Mancha' plays Merrill in Portland

Lifestyle

Out & About: 'Man of La Mancha' plays Merrill in Portland

There’s lots to pick from on this week’s performing arts calendar, with two very different dramatic productions and a very intriguing concert.

At the apex of the listings is “Man of La Mancha,” the 1965 Broadway musical adaptation of Miguel de Cervantes’ “Don Quixote.” It is one of the most enduring musicals in Broadway history, with four revivals and numerous national tours. One of these visits Portland for two performances on Saturday.

At the opposite end of the drama spectrum is “Orphans,” a tiny three-man play that plays in a tiny 50-seat theater in South Portland.

This weekend the DaPonte String Quartet will give four performances of the third program in its 2013-2014 season in Thomaston, Damariscotta, Portland and Topsham.

‘Man of La Mancha’

One of my all-time favorite Broadway musicals is coming to Portland, and I’ve already reserved my tickets. Portland Ovations is hosting a national touring production of “Man of La Mancha,” with two performances slated for this Saturday.

“Man of La Mancha” is an adaptation for the musical stage of Miguel de Cervantes’ 17th century novel, “Don Quixote.” Dale Wasserman’s script adds an extra device – framing Cervantes’ story as a play within a play that’s set within a jail – that makes for a more compact staging, while Joe Dorion’s lyrics emphasize and underscore the intertwined tension between illusion and reality, a major theme of both the original novel and the Broadway version.

Mitch Leigh’s soaring score adds to the enormous appeal of this musical. The best-remembered song is “The Impossible Dream,” which has become an enduring popular standard that is frequently performed totally independent of its original purpose and setting.

In brief, “Man of La Mancha” is the story of an aging and very nearsighted Spanish nobleman who has studied medieval chivalry and imagines himself a knight on a crusade to right the wrongs of the world. Accompanied by his loyal servant, Sancho Panza, a man with much common sense and much clearer vision of reality, Don Quixote romps through a series of comic adventures.

In each case, the nobleman’s idealism is contrasted with vulgar reality. The audience laughs at Don Quixote’s mistakes and misfortunes, but strongly identifies with his vision.

The original Broadway production won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Score. It has been revived four times on Broadway and has been popular with school, community and professional companies for almost 50 years.

Portland Ovations presents “Man of La Mancha” at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. March 22. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

‘Orphans’

Vulgar reality, the ugly foil for Don Quixote’s idealism, is the centerpiece of “Orphans,” a dark play by Lyle Kessler that is getting its Maine premiere this month at Mad Horse Theatre Company in South Portland.

Mad Horse has been a fixture of the southern Maine theatrical scene since the late 1980s, and it has traditionally presented plays that are too offbeat and dark for other companies. And most of that time, the plays have been presented in tiny spaces.

“Orphans” represents the epitome of Mad Horse: a claustrophobic little drama that is set inside a tiny house and performed in a minuscule 50-seat theater.

I saw “Orphans” last week at a preview, the day before its formal opening. Although I admired the acting and directing, I found it impossible to positively relate to its three repulsive characters and an utterly unappealing plot.

Here’s the quick take on the story. Two brothers live in a house in North Philadelphia in the 1980s. Treat (Nathan Speckman), the older brother, is a violent, foul-mouthed petty thief who picks men’s pockets and steals ladies’ jewelry. Philip (Dylan Chestnutt) is an immature teenager who hasn’t been out of the house in years, ostensibly because of his allergies. One day Treat kidnaps Harold (Mike Kimball), a shady and mysterious businessman, and decides to hold him hostage in the house. But nobody is interested in paying ransom for Harold’s release, Treat discovers. But there are people looking for him.

The brightest spot in “Orphans” is Kimball, a longtime veteran actor, who brings a pulsing vitality to his pathetic character, who is apparently on the lam from a murderous gang in Chicago.

In the course of the drama, Harold becomes a sort of father to the two young men – a father they have never known in life.

Mad Horse Theatre Company, 24 Mosher St. in South Portland (the former Hutchins School), presents “Orphans” through March 30 with 7:30 p.m. performances Thursday through Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Call 747-4148.

DaPonte String Quartet

The DaPonte String Quartet greets spring with an unusual program that includes one established masterpiece of chamber music plus three modern works. The anchor of the program is Franz Joseph Haydn’s String Quartet No. 40, subtitled “The Dream,” which dates from 1787 and gets its nickname from the second movement, which is characterized by lovely melodies that are introduced and developed very slowly.

Randall Thompson’s “Alleluia” dates from 1940. This perennially youthful four-part choral work is one of the composer’s most popular choral pieces; it has been rearranged for string quartet.

Earl Stewart’s “Blues Fugues” is a contemporary work that was inspired by Johann Sebastian Bach. The composer was one of violist Kirsten Monke’s teachers when she was a graduate fellow at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

The most intriguing piece on the program is George Crumb’s “Black Angels,” which was inspired by the Vietnam War. A challenge to perform, “Dark Angels” requires the musicians to play not only electric stringed instruments but percussion instruments ranging from gongs, mallets, maracas, fourteen tuned crystal goblets, glass rods, and thimbles, to a metal plectra. They also vocalize in six languages, rap their knuckles and their bows on the instruments, produce tongue clicks and whistle.

George Crumb is a living American composer who is best known for experimental works that employ unusual timbres and techniques. “Black Angels” dates from 1971, a time when experimental music was much in vogue. It was stood the test of time, and is one of Crumb’s most frequently performed pieces.

Performances are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. March 20 in Thomaston at St. John’s Church, 200 Main Street; 7:30 p.m. March 21 in Damariscotta at Lincoln Theater, 2 Theater St.; 7:30 p.m. March 22 at the Portland Public Library, 5 Monument Square; and March 23 at 3 p.m. in Topsham at the Mid-Coast Presbyterian Church, 84 Main St. Call 529-4555.