COLDWATER, Mich. — The sun set Wednesday in brilliant streaks of pink and gray over The Ponds in Coldwater, Michigan.
The event center is hosting the Tibbits Opera House production “Man of La Mancha.” The musical tale of Don Quixote is achieved with a conservative cast in an outdoor location where seats can be placed at an adequate social distance.
The crowd Wednesday, opening night, seemed sparse but with chairs well spread out, filling the 5,400-square-foot pavilion. Everyone wore masks but the actors and actresses, who enacted a whimsical grab at life lived with honor and gusto.
The play bill touted a season “conquering COVID one show at a time.”
Pandemic aside, the setting was superb on a cool summer evening. The Ponds boasts large, mature trees and water features on 30 acres. One can wander through a covered bridge, spelunk to an island or sit in the shade on a bench.
It was a fun place to watch a play. A meager stage and few props with a handful of boxes moved by the cast as scenes changed let the play written by Dale Wasserman and music by Mitch Leigh speak for itself. Musical accompaniment was entirely by music director Matthew Everingham on piano.
As daylight dwindled, stage lights provided warmth and two people holding high-powered flashlights at the back of the arena created makeshift spotlights.
“We’re all about adapting,” said Stephanie Burdick, Tibbits operations director.
The scattered, starry-eyed Don Quixote was played by Charles Burr.
“I have always felt that ‘Man of La Mancha’ was one of the most beautiful and inspiring musicals ever written. But its compelling message of idealism, inspiration and ‘dreaming the impossible dream’ has an even more profound resonance this particular season with the convergence of two unique circumstances, the arrival of COVID-19 in our world and the retirement of Tibbits’ beloved artistic director of 30 years, Charles Burr,” wrote Peter Riopelle, director, in a note in the play bill.
Riopelle, who appeared as antagonist characters the Duke and Dr. Sanson Carrasco, said no one could be more fitting than Burr for the role of Don Quixote.
Even pulling off the play under COVID-19 conventions seemed like an impossible dream, Riopelle admits. He thanked patrons for continuing to support Tibbits amidst “wild winds of fortune.”
As I enjoyed the beautiful singing voices and polished performance of the reading production, I felt fortunate to be at a professional play; at any play, really. After enduring the shutdowns, fits and starts of today’s pandemic culture, the future seems uncertain. While I am hopeful that COVID-19 will fade away and life can return to normal, that plays can be held in theaters and concerts in major venues, there is no way to know. Could “Man of La Mancha” be the last live play I ever see?
During intermission, I was reading a new release I picked up at Carnegie Public Library of Steuben County — “COVID-19: The Pandemic That Never Should Have Happened and How To Stop the Next One.” The author Debora Mackenzie, a journalist, talks about the warning signs years ago that a coronavirus could sweep throughout the world. She cautions that there are much worse diseases that could follow.
Sometimes, it is easy to look at our world as a “dung heap,” as the female lead of the play Aldonza often referred to it. Aldonza led a wretched life, but Don Quixote saw her as the beautiful, graceful Dulcinea, worthy of being defended.
Don Quixote saw the beauty and bravery behind the everyday man and woman. He celebrated it and fought for it.
May we all feel that glory in living and fight for each other with a similar out-of-the-box fervor.