Thursday, February 19, 2009

Man of La Mancha (and why I like it)

I loved Man of La Mancha. The Reprise production at UCLA had some issues, I thought -- principally their Dulcinea -- but I loved it anyway.

I was talking with my brother the other night on the phone about it, and I could see him rolling his eyes at me, right through long distance. Man of La Mancha???

There are several reasons why that musical punches my buttons.

1. The songs are glorious and singable and mostly in my warbling range.
2. It's about a writer who is telling a good story.
3. It has romantical notions about how to frame your own life story, and why that's so important in a world in which we don't have control over so many things.
4. I bought the soundtrack on tape when I was a nanny and housekeeper in Connecticut, and listened to it over and over again -- I had about three tapes all together. One of them was whalesong. Another was rain. So basically it *was* my music for one entire, lonely year.

There's another reason I like it too, though. It has multiple levels of time and action happening simultaneously. On level one, writer Miguel de Cervantes is in prison, awaiting a probable death sentence from the Inquisition and telling a story to entertain the other inmates in a desperate attempt to keep them from burning his manuscript. On the second level is the story of old Don Quinones, who is widowed and alone and sad, and has a money grubbing family who are embarrassed by him when he goes mad. On the third level, is Don Quixote -- the character that Don Quinones becomes in his madness -- who has the power to transform shaving bowls into golden helmets, windmills into giants to be bested, and a prostitute into the Lady Dulcinea. Don Quixote tranforms more than these objects, though -- he transforms the people in Don Quinones' world. He transforms the people in Cervantes' world. He give the audience new eyes to see their own world.

I tend to like these kinds of stories. Ambitious stories that tackle multiple levels of action. Your potential canvas is so large! I've only done it myself once, in Reading to Vegetables. (Well, also in the first version of Heads, but that's not a successful play, so I'm not counting it.)

The Prince of Tides, by Pat Conroy, is a favorite book of mine, and it does a beautiful job of wending us through the present day story of Tom Wingo dealing with his troubled twin sister's suicide attempt and the various threads of their childhood that have made them and their brother the people they are. Also, the narrative voice is absolutely gorgeous.

It, by Stephen King, is my favorite book by him (and I've read a bunch). A group of adults are brought back together when a Great Evil they defeated as children returns to the town where they grew up. I love the weaving back and forth through time and perspective in this book. We see the two action lines -- fighting the Great Evil in the present and fighting it in the past. But we also slide in and out of each of the character's heads, in the past and in the present. We see who they are now, and who they were then. What they share with each other, and what they keep secret, and the secrets they understand about each other even when they are unspoken.

What a glorious world, where all these stories are ours to read and see and love and learn from!!

No comments: