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Puppets help in Quixote’s quest

By Dave Jones on February 16, 2007 in University

UC Davis' forthcoming production of Man of la Mancha offers a twist: life-size puppets. But, except for one matinee, this is no puppet show for the kids, the Department of Theatre and Dance advises.

Man of la Mancha, the Tony Award-winning musical, includes adult themes and situations revolving around Spanish novelist Don Miguel de Cervantes and his most famous character, the idealistic Don Quixote.

The play follows Cervantes as he is put in prison to await trial by the Spanish Inquisition. His fellow prisoners hold a mock trial to determine whether Cervantes' possessions, a trunk of costumes and theater props, should be distributed among themselves. As a defense, Cervantes presents a play about Don Quixote, assigning each prisoner a character along with an appropriate costume from the trunk.

In the UC Davis production, Cervantes gives spectacular puppets to the prisoners. "Puppets are a great way to portray the idealized world of Don Quixote that Cervantes aspires to," said director Art Grueneberger, artistic director of the Sacramento-based Puppet Art Theater Co.

Last year, for his thesis project en route to receiving his master of fine arts degree in acting at UC Davis, Grueneberger presented a bare-bones version of Man of la Mancha with a few puppets. Subsequently, the Department of Theatre and Dance invited him back to stage a full production.

Kristen Phillips, who has worked with the Puppet Art Theater Co. for more than 10 years, created the puppets for Grueneberger's Man of la Mancha last year at UC Davis and added to the cast for the full production, to a total of more than 20 puppets.

In Man of la Mancha, Quixote sings of dreaming the impossible dream, and Grueneberger long dreamed his own impossible dream, now fulfilled: "I've wanted to mount a full-scale production of Man of la Mancha using puppets for years."

A preview performance is scheduled at 8 p.m. March 1, and subsequent performances are set for 8 p.m. March 2-3 and March 8-10, and 2 p.m. March 4 and 11, all in Main Theatre, Wright Hall. A special matinee at 1 p.m. March 9 is rated PG-13, according to the Department of Theatre and Dance. Discussions with the director and cast, are scheduled after the March 4 and 9 matinees. For tickets, contact the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts box office, (530) 754-2787 or (866) 754-2787, or

Media contact(s)

Dave Jones, Dateline, 530-752-6556,