Can you imagine

Don Quixote

, Cervantes' massive masterwork, cut down to novella size? Dale Wasserman did when he, lyricist Joe Darion, and composer Mitch Leigh created their beloved 1965 Broadway musical

Man of La Mancha

, which won five Tony Awards.

Picture La Mancha miniaturized even further, and you get a sense of the 105-minute intermission-less production running at Ambler's Act II Playhouse.

Wasserman's book takes a play-within-a-play approach to the story: The Inquisition has imprisoned Cervantes (Peter Schmitz) and his servant Sancho Panza (Sonny Leo) for putting a lien on a monastery. The other prisoners sneer at his idealism and put him through their own trial. In his defense, Cervantes dons makeup and a wig to become Quixote, and asks them to help reenact the latter's tales of heroism and chivalry.

Act II attempts intimacy on its smallish stage, but the 10 cast members crammed into this production felt cramped throughout. Under James Leitner's sharp lighting design, Maura Roche's back wall-and-side eaves set functions as tavern, dungeon, courtyard, and gypsy camp, but the characters have little room to maneuver, let alone stage a five-person bar fight.

Schmitz gives a remarkable performance, full of instantaneous turns from Cervantes to Quixote. But his thin baritone has served him much better in character roles elsewhere. Maria Konstantinidis' pretty voice beguiles as the serving girl Aldonza, whom Quixote worships as his heroine Dulcinea.

The cast accompanies on guitar, tambourine, accordion, cello, and other instruments, wearing Alisa Sickora Kleckner's colorful costumes. All are fine in their roles as 17th-century barber, tavern keeper, scholar, or knight.

But under Aaron Cromie's rushed, humorless direction, the production never convinces as epic or musical, seeming more like a play with songs here and there, most of them rushed through and none used to develop emotional depth.

In this miniaturized staging, only Aldonza's and Quixote's story line shone through, which may have amplified the show's redemptive theme but limited the force of its telling.


Man of La Mancha

Through June 8 at Act II Playhouse, 56 E. Butler Ave., Ambler.

Tickets: $33 to $39

Information: 215-654-0200 or act2.orgEndText