"Man of La Mancha" will meet "El Hombre de La Mancha" in an unusual pairing of English- and Spanish-language versions of the musical journey of Cervantes' noble knight, Don Quixote, and his faithful servant, Sancho Panza.
Beginning with tonight's 8 o'clock English-language performance, Campus Theatre audiences at Fullerton College can choose over the next 10 days whether to see Dale Wasserman's musical performed in Spanish or English. Four performances will be in English and three in Spanish. The first presentation of the Spanish-speaking version will be at 2:30 p.m. Sunday.
Tom Blank, chairman of the college's Theatre Arts Department, got the idea for dual performances after flying to Mexico to see a Spanish-language production of "Man of La Mancha" staged by his wife, Mary Bettini, who directed and choreographed the musical.
"He was mesmerized by the Spanish, by hearing the show in that language," Bettini said. "There is such nuance in that language that simply doesn't exist in the English language."
Blank proposed bringing the musical to the community college in two separate productions. He would direct the English-language cast and his wife would be brought in as a guest director to stage the Spanish-language version. And high school Spanish and literature students from throughout Southern California would be invited to attend the productions, prepped with study guides to introduce them to the original novel and its author, as well as information on the evolution of a musical theater production.
The Spanish adaptation of the musical will be performed by a cast drawn from the Spanish-speaking community in Orange County and Los Angeles.
"The Spanish-speaking community is so supportive of the arts. It's part of their culture," Bettini said. "We've been a bit frustrated in Southern California since we've been here. . . . When we go to the theater, and we don't see full houses, we want to cry. So the other half of this, of course, is how do we get people into the theater? How can we make this more accessible to these people in this area?"
The community college seemed a logical place to start. "They do reach out to the community for support, and they get a lot of support from the community," she added.
The co-directors reached into the community to cast many of the roles, announcing auditions through Spanish-language radio stations in the Los Angeles area. The response was overwhelming, Bettini said. The Spanish-language cast reflects a wide range of geographical backgrounds. Don Quixote is played by Rafael Duran of Mexico, who is in the United States on a student visa to study acting. Peru, El Salvador and Guatemala are represented as well. The English-language cast features Bob Jacobson as Quixote.
Bettini speaks some Spanish, which she laughingly describes as "highly questionable," and is directing her cast in a combination of the two languages. But the Spanish-speaking cast has some ideas of its own about the language of the play. "We've modified a little bit as we've gone along in order to make it a little more Castillian and a little less Mexican, in terms of idiom," Bettini said. "And, of course, everybody has their own opinion of that. It's nice, because they take such good care of their language. They say, 'No, there is a nicer way to say this.' And there are so many words that don't exist in English that are lovely."
Even with a husband and wife team at the helm, the logistics of staging two separate shows back to back are staggering. The two productions share the same set, lighting design, musical director, choreographer and even a few of the same costumes. They rehearse at the same time, using four different spaces. Although the actors take different approaches to the material, the end results are shaping up to be remarkably similar, she said, largely due to the co-directors' shared appreciation for the material.
"I think we both came into this show with the same emotional response and the same gut-level and intellectual definition of what the show is," Blank said.
"Our history of this show together has been so long," Bettini added. They first met in 1970 in a college production of "Man of La Mancha" at the University of San Francisco; she was the choreographer, and he played the barber. Bettini has since staged the show in Japan, Sweden, Belgium and the United States, as well as in Mexico, but this is the first time they have worked together as co-directors.
One of their hopes is that this production will help to build a future audience for the theater, Bettini said, especially among the high school students who will attend the productions.
"In so many of these countries, (theater) is not a luxury. It's part of their lives," she said. "This is a baby; we'll see how it grows."
"Man of La Mancha" (performed in English) will play today, Saturday and March 20 at 8 p.m. and March 22 at 2:30 p.m. "El Hombre de La Mancha," performed in Spanish, will open Sunday at 2:30 p.m. and continue March 19 and 21 at 8 p.m. All performances will be in the Campus Theatre, 321 E. Chapman Ave., Fullerton.