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Theo Ubique's Man of La Mancha Needs Room to Breathe

By Suzy Evans in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 26, 2009 5:20PM

2009_10_Mancha.jpg We love storefront theater. There are no daunting crowds; the actors are right there; and you can usually enjoy a beer during the show. Chicago thrives on these theaters, and Rogers Park’s No Exit Café numbers among the best of ‘em. And while we also love Theo Ubique and applaud their gutsiness in Man of La Mancha, we felt a little too close to this production.

Theo Ubique’s version takes place in a modern insane asylum, which seems a fitting place for Miguel de Cervantes to tell the tale of the “mad” knight Don Quixote. The show is a play within a play, with Cervantes staging the Quixote story as part of a mock trial to save a manuscript the inmates threaten to burn. However, the actors, Maggie Portman in particular, are so darn good at being insane that we spent most of our time watching the background performers instead of following the story. As a result, we could never really tell when we were in the play or the play within the play, which was confusing and somewhat maddening.

The clinging and clanging of pots and pans (at least that's what we think made the noise of Quixote charging at the windmill) and screaming of mad men is just not conducive to a tiny theater space, which provides great sound and production quality. The set design suited the play well, with puke green tiled walls, and the lighting accented the action perfectly. The actors brought a raw energy to the production that could have filled a space many times the size, and while single voices weren’t especially strong on solos, with a few exceptions, when put together, their collective voice triumphed.

Also, with all the talk of Molly Brennan’s cross dressing in Animal Crackers, people have overlooked Danielle Brothers’ gender-bending in this production. She leads the cast as Cervantes/Don Quixote, and though she doesn’t exude enough masculinity and obviously forces her voice lower at times, her enthusiasm was contagious. She also finished off the famous “The Impossible Dream” with enough power and heart to fulfill the emotional demands of the song. As Cervantes’s servant Sancho, Anthony Apodaca provided much of the comedy and complemented Brothers’ nicely. Other performers added quirk and charm, and everyone’s heart and soul was clearly in their performance.

We still love this venue and this company, and you should definitely see work here by them. We didn’t love this production; however, we did kind of want to skip through the streets of Rogers Park, with a mop as a horse and toilet plunger as sword, singing “I, Don Quixote” after the show. Maybe some of the madness rubbed off on us.

Man of La Mancha runs through November 22 at No Exit Café, 6970 N. Glenwood