Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Steve of the Woeful Countenance

If you saw Man of La Mancha at Wayside Theatre (and many people saw it twice), you saw this guy onstage, but you probably didn't notice him. He was seated in the corner of "Pitland," (our nickname for the upstage pocket under the top platform, where most of the music originated), usually playing the trumpet, when he wasn't playing the bass. Always, he wore the forlorn expression of a prisoner of the Inquisition. Unlike the other musicians in the piece, all of whom were also actors (I'll get to them in a minute), he was never brought down into the center of the action. Like a wallflower at the High School Dance, he hugged that corner until he almost disappeared. I was onstage a lot, and though he never left the stage, I only saw him twice. Once, when the entire company danced offstage in an orgy of gypsy gyrations, he was the one soul left, to slowly pick up the trumpet and begin a melancholy strain. Another time, I passed right by him as I made my dignified exit, after croaking out one of my big numbers (I wrote about fouling up that little ditty here, in case you missed it).

This shrinking violet secreted in the corner, way upstage left, was Steve Przybylski, and he was the star of the show.

Man of La Mancha is a star vehicle in the best sense of the term, and our Quixote, Tom Simpson, fulfilled every requirement of the role (I wrote a bit about sharing the stage with Tom here). Like the best star vehicles, La Mancha contains lots of swell supporting characters, and a dynamic leading lady role in Aldonza, the kitchen slut whom the mad knight adores. Nancy O'Bryan played our gal to the hilt and then some. Nancy possesses a beautiful voice, and she could easily have turned Aldonza into a lark or a nightingale, with clear and pristine tones. But she chose a more dangerous route, allowing the roughness of the character to inform her voice; the result was a raw, realistic performance. I was grateful that director Warner allowed Sancho Panza to remain part of the action during Aldonza's rant following her gang-rape (Sancho is usually in the background at that point), as I was able to see upclose how ravaged this woman had been.

Everyone else did strong work, too. Can you tell I'm proud of this cast? Wayside's Intern Company stepped up to the plate in this, their first show together, playing instruments, playing horses, and playing actual people, too. Jayson "I've never sung before" Belew had fine moments as Cervantes's nemesis, and teamed up with Cody "The Barber" Murphy to kick the show into gear as a couple of hoofing horses. Aviva "My blog is better than yours" Pressman was raunchy as a barmaid but prim and proper as the Housekeeper. Dave "The Padre" Sucharski pulled double and triple duty as one of the leading musicians, while Mike "I'm not an intern" Rosengarten seamlessly moved his classical guitar into the action many times. Warner augmented the company with some former interns, including Ricky Hesson, who flip-flopped from the stern Governor to the indecisive Innkeeper and back again, and Vaughn Irving (about whom I wrote here), who was privileged to wear the Best Hat in the show. And we had some more local talent joining the fun, including Sun King "yes, my parents were hippies" Davis, whose bones I jumped every night, and Gus "Bucket Boy" Glatzel, who was the closest anybody in the cast got to being Spanish (he's Argentinian by birth).

The spectacular Thomasin Savaiano played both Quixote's niece and the Innkeeper's wife, and turned that gypsy dance into a comic highlight. But my favorite moment of hers came near the end of the play, when, as one of the nameless prisoners awaiting her turn in front of the Spanish Inquisition, she spat, "they'll put the question to him." I stood only a foot or two from her when she delivered that line, and in that moment, I swear I could see in this pitiful creature's eyes her entire existence. That's a fine actress (Thomasin played my wife in Wayside's Black Coffee several years ago; she wiped the stage with me):
So, anchored by Tom's dynamic turn as the title character, we had some strong performances. But I still maintain that that unnoticed guy sitting in the corner was the star of the show. From our audience's feedback, we heard, over and over, that the music in the show stood out. It was rustic, it was true to the period, it sounded "right." Steve was our musical director (I wrote about his skills in rehearsal here), and he re-orchestrated this huge musical into a chamber piece, using instruments which evoked the time and place. He was constantly adjusting and re-imagining the piece; when it became apparent, very late in the process, that a flute was essential, he volunteered himself to play it (along with the thousands of other instruments he was also handling). Wisely, Warner knew a bad idea when he heard it, and enlisted young Molly Knudsen to join our band (Molly is a teen actress who had not appeared in a Wayside mainstage production, and her playing of the flute added a haunting quality to "Dulcinea," in particular). Steve was greatly aided by Til Turner's scenic design; the set resembled a tiny Hollywood Bowl after Armageddon had hit, and the acoustics funneled the music straight out into the audience. Warner and Steve looked for any and all opportunities to suck the musicians into the action, and succeeded in making the music part of the organic whole.

Steve is also an actor, but it was a contractual glitch which prevented Warner from making use of his thespianic skills. Instead, he sat upstage left, removed from the action, playing his instruments and occasionally (and very subtly) conducting the music. But anytime you looked at him, he had the despondent, woeful look of a prisoner of the Inquisition.

I think all of us are proud of our work on Man of La Mancha. I hope Steve is proudest of all. He should be. His work, in a word, was stellar.

1 comment:

malia said...

I couldn't begin to agree with you more on this one. Though Steve, when I mentioned this blog entry to him was too shy to read it and only said in his quiet manner "Just doing my job."