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Bemidji State to stage musical 'Man of La Mancha'

K.D. Howells, seen as Aldonza in Bemidji State University's production of "Man of La Mancha," argues with Jeremiah Liend as Don Quixote, who persists in seeing her as the Lady Dulcinea. The musical will open at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the Bangsberg Fine Arts Complex. Pioneer Photo/Patt Rall

"Man of La Mancha" will open this week as the Bemidji State University Theater spring production.

It is a musical which started out as a serious play by Dale Wasserman, was later complemented by the lyrics and music of Joe Darion and Mitch Leigh, panned by the critics and enjoyed by preview audiences to become one of the longest running musicals in the 1960s.

BSU's opening night performance will be at 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 16, followed by the Talk Back Night when audience members can learn about the creative processes of the director, actors and technical decisions at the conclusion of the performance. The play will be performed for two weekends: 7:30 p.m. April 16, 17, 23 and 24 and a 2 p.m. matinee Sunday, April 25, in the main theater of Bangsberg Fine Arts Complex, 14th Street and Birchmont Drive Northeast. Tickets are available now at the box office located in Room 101 of Bangsberg from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday and 2-4:30 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday. The box office phone number is 755-3935. Admission is $12 for adults, $6 for students and senior citizens. BSU students are admitted free with valid ID. Because of some adult themes, this production is suitable for high school age students and older.

"To Dream the Impossible Dream" seems to be one song that resonates with people across the globe. "Man of LaMancha" is performed for audiences in various native languages. The theme of the show is to dare to dream the impossible even in the bleakest times. Jeremiah Liend, who plays the character of Cervantes' Don Quixote in the show, calls upon that desire to survive. He uses the example of his recently departed grandmother Beulah Stenerson, who would not give up even in the face imminent death. He said she was one of his role models in life and gave him the ability to strive for his dreams.

Change is difficult, and big change is even more so. Cervantes takes on the political-religious strife of the times of which he writes in his manuscript, "Don Quixote," the inspiration for "Man of La Mancha." He examines the Spanish Inquisition as conceived by the same monarchs who supplied the money for Christopher Columbus explorations. Considered by many to be the first novel, "Don Quixote" is a classic of modern literature read by generations of college students and pondered for its puzzle - when to let go of the status quo and when to hold on to it, and which ethical values evolve with the demands of the times.

"I have wanted to play Quixote because the manuscript is acknowledged as one of the masterpieces of literature; it is about the constant war between mediocrity and idealism and that is a battle that I have personally fought for years now," said Liend. "Also, I have never worked with Patrick before and I wanted to see what his process is like."

Patrick Carriere, in his directors' notes, said he wants to engage the audience in the tragedy of the work, and Liend wants us to continue to dream the impossible dreams of life. Both men, however, want the audience to enter into the life and times of Spanish prisoners in this play set in a dungeon. The set, as designed by Ellen Jones, is dark and supportive of Carriere's focus on bringing the inspirational message back to audiences in iconic plays

K.D. Howells returns to portray Aldonza-Dulcinea in this production. She is the beautiful serving wench teased and brutalized by the muleteers but respected as a lady by the chivalrous Don Quixote. As Aldonza, Howells pleads with Quixote to see her as she really is, but he is determined to see her as the Lady Dulcinea, a personna she consistently rejects until the end of play. Howells said she likes being on stage with Liend and working with a more experienced actor than with student peers.

"It is nice. The energy that I get from Liend is calming as well because I know that we can work though any problems together," said Howells.

The play is an ensemble piece so closely knit that the players must switch between being prisoners in a dungeon to the characters in a play that Cervantes stages wherein each prisoner becomes the judge and jury in the life of Don Quixote de La Mancha. The cast assembled for this production by Carriere includes many familiar faces such as Eric Benson as Cervante's man servant, Sancho Panza, a comedic sidekick-philosopher to Don Quixote. John Mansk, Kirsten Wade, Ramey Nordby, Ceara Dowell are also well known to local audiences for their portrayals in past BSU productions. BSU biology professor Mark Fulton makes his debut in a BSU production as the Captain who brings the prisoners back to the reality of their situation. The choreography is by Mallory McKay and Ashley Bremseth is music director. Bremseth leads the musical group with Matt Sieberg on piano, Matt Eidsvoog on guitar, Lee Foster on bass and Doug Quance on drums and percussion.

"This has definitely been a challenging experience but very educational because I have learned a lot that will be beneficial to my teaching career," said Bremseth who will be student teaching at Red River High School in Grand Forks, N.D., in the fall.

"Man of La Mancha" is a serious play intertwined with beautiful music which touches, explores and exposes the range of human emotions -despair, greed, jealousy, shame and hopelessness - to the overwhelming sense of hope when the prisoners support Quixote as he mounts the stairs to face his sentence from the judges of the Spanish Inquisition, singing a reprise of "To Dream the Impossible Dream."