Ed Bedford 11:44 p.m., June 19
The Spanish Inquisition stuck Miguel de Cervantes in a dungeon on a trumped up charge (he allegedly foreclosed on a monastery). When the other prisoners set up a mock trial, Cervantes defends himself with a play they'll all act out.
Cervantes becomes Alonso Quijana, an old gent who has read way too many chivalrous romances. He in turn becomes the knight errant, Don Quixote de La Mancha, a "coo-coo bird" who sees the world not as it is, but as it would be in one of his books: a shaving basin becomes a golden helmet, a prostitute a virgin, windmills loom as four-armed giants.
Somewhere between the idea for a play and the acting out, there must have been rehearsals, since everyone knows their roles and performs them capably. Either that or the prisoners are geniuses at improvising.
At the Welk, director/choreographer Dan Mojica adds an extra layer. The prisoners not only play various roles, they also play flutes, guitars, drums, and a trumpet, and play them so well there really must have been rehearsals.
It doesn't take long, however, to run with the show's improvised feel and follow the travails of a noble mind o'erthrown by itself.
As Cervantes/Quijana/Quixote, John Lalond sings the iconic songs with strength and feeling ("Man of La Mancha" and "The Impossible Dream") and laces a strange kind of sanity into the knight's blitherings.
Natalie Nucci gives Aldonza - the hardened realist opposing Quixote's idealism - the necessary grit, in particular when singing the autobiographical "Aldonza" ("I was spawned in a ditch by a mother who left me there naked and cold and too hungry to cry").
A strong support cast includes John Polhamus (who plays the Duke, Dr. Carrasco, and the trumpet), Daniel Berlin (Sancho), and A. J. Mendoza (the Padre).
Jennifer Edwards-Northover's expert lighting helps make the stage appear through Quixote's eyes. It's a dungeon, always, but with deep shadows and steep cones of filtered light, it becomes an inn, a castle, or whatever the Don imagines is out there.