Davies and Winsett’s Fifth ‘La Mancha’ Sparks Memories
By Evans Donnell on February 17, 2012
HENDERSONVILLE – Ah, to dream the impossible dream, to fight the unbeatable foe…with high scaffolding, a flying boot, a tent and a bodyguard. What do those things have to do with The Man of La Mancha? They’re attached to some of the memories Lane Davies and Jerry Winsett have about doing the show four times over the past 39 years.
Davies will once again play Cervantes/Don Quixote while Winsett is Manservant/Sancho Panza Feb. 23-March 3 in Actors Point Theatre Company’s presentation of the Dale Wasserman-Joe Darion-Mitch Leigh classic musical. Actors Point (www.actorspointheatre.com), headed by founding artistic director Greg Wilson, is Sumner County’s new professional theatre troupe; the group’s premiere production was a recent well-received staging of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
Dalton, Ga. native Davies, the founder of Tennessee Shakespeare Festival (www.tennesseeshakespearefestival.com) in Bell Buckle, is a stage veteran who’s well-known for his lengthy list of on-camera credits; he was the original Mason Capwell on the 1980s NBC soap Santa Barbara, an international hit that’s played in more than 53 countries worldwide, and psychopathic time-traveler Tempus on Lois & Clark – The New Adventures of Superman in the 1990s to name but two of his regular, recurring and guest starring roles on television.
Winsett now lives in Wilmington, N.C., but he’s a Middle Tennessee native who grew up in Clarksville. He’s got an impressive list of acting credits over the years onstage and on-camera and he’s even part of one of the most memorable TV commercials of all time – his sleepy character got a flour-filled slap in the face from Fred the Baker (the late Michael Vale) in a 1983 “Time to Make the Donuts” advertisement for Dunkin’ Donuts.
The place is Prestonsburg, Ky. The 23-year-old Winsett has been spending the season acting at the Jenny Wiley Summer Music Festival; Davies, also 23, has just arrived to play the lead in the festival’s upcoming show. On the day the two meet Winsett has just come from working on Damn Yankees to his initial rehearsal for Man of La Mancha.
“The first words I ever said to him were, ‘Here your grace!’, which I believe has set the tone for our friendship for the past 39 years,” he says, as he and Davies laugh during a recent phone interview with the pair.
Davies was “a little frightened” at the size of the role, its vocal demands and playing Don Quixote at 23 “but other than that, at that age you really know no fear, so I just hurled myself into the part.”
There was one other thing that put a scare into Davies and his new friend, though – the high scaffolding they had to mount to make Cervantes and Manservant’s entrance into the dungeon.
“When Lane and I first realized we were both afraid of heights we would just kind of cling to each other…and then try to look manly as we went down the stairs shaking,” Winsett says. “We were far enough from the audience that they couldn’t see us trembling until we got about five feet above stage level.”
“The shaking worked because it gave the appearance of us being terrified of the Inquisition,” Davies adds, “when actually we were just recovering from a walk down the scaffolding!”
Mountain Lakes, N.J. is the setting for Davies and Winsett’s next joust against the windmills. “It was quite scaled down from the previous space,” Davies recalls. “We went from this huge outdoor theatre at the Jenny Wiley to a very small dinner theatre.” Or as Winsett puts it, “We went from a 20-foot staircase to a three-step drawbridge.”
Winsett compiled a short written history of the duo’s Man of La Mancha productions titled “The Road to La Mancha” which he’s generously provided to ArtNowNashville.com. Here, with modifications for newspaper style, is what he writes about the effect a piece of his costume had during a performance at Neil’s New Yorker Dinner Theatre:
“One night when the Knight of the Mirrors shoved Sancho aside, my boot flew off. It was several sizes too big, costuming budgets in small theaters being what they are, and I had worn three pairs of socks to keep it on, but to no avail. It sailed offstage and landed (with a) plop right in the middle of one of the audience members’ tables. One of the socks also came mostly off and trailed across the floor.
“Lane and I could not look at each other. But after the show was over, we laughed till our sides ached.”
The scene shifts to Simi Valley, Calif. Davies has started the Santa Susana Repertory Company (SSRC); they’ve mounted A Christmas Carol and Of Mice and Men in small rented spaces but they’re looking for a singular way to really grab the community’s attention. Let’s just say the old adage about being careful about what you wish for is applicable.
“We were going to do it in (a former) supermarket and couldn’t get the permits for it when we’d already built half the set,” Davies says. “A deputy city manager said, ‘If you guys will do it in a tent I’ll draw up temporary permits for you to do it in a tent,’ so that’s what we did.”
“We had to dismantle what we’d done, take it outside to the parking lot and reassemble it with modifications because of the tent,” Winsett adds as both laugh.
What was that production like? Don Shirley attended a Sunday performance for the Los Angeles Times, and later wrote: “First, and most obviously, the Santa Susana Rep is dreaming its own ‘impossible dream,’ carrying on against the odds as Don Quixote did. The show must go on, and it does.
“This sort of sentiment wouldn’t count for much if the show weren’t very good. But this is one show that deserves to go on.”
He did note there were “prosaic intrusions” in the parking lot presentation including “a car with an especially loud radio went by just after Don Quixote expired, while the priest sang a farewell psalm.” Winsett recalls a train that came through during performances with its horn blaring.
But Shirley and others who saw that production embraced not only it but the fledgling troupe that brought it to life under canvas, ropes and poles. As Winsett notes in his writing, “I know in my heart that this production is why Lane so loves doing TSF under the stars in a tent. It is homage to that production where, against all odds, we completed our quest and had not only a huge success with La Mancha, but helped birth a production company that thrived for years.”
Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Santa Susana has been asked to stage the inaugural production for the brand new state-of-the-art 349-seat Forum Theatre at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza. It’s a heady time for the growing SSRC, and the fact that the musical’s book writer is coming to see the show makes it even more so. Winsett figures he needs to reexamine his portrayal before Wasserman shows up.
He decides that since Cervantes changes when he becomes Don Quixote the Manservant changes to become Sancho – he’s going to be the bodyguard and muscle as Manservant before transforming into the simple, sweet Sancho. That’s what Wasserman gets to see when he attends the show.
“When I met Mr. Wasserman after the performance, he shook my hand smiling,” Winsett recalls. “He said he loved the production and my performance. Then he said, ‘That bit in the beginning, what was that?’
“I could feel the floor disappearing from under me, and I, in a rush of words, explained my thoughts and that I had felt I had found that in his writing. He said, ‘No, I never had that in my mind.’ And he started to walk away. I was stunned.
“Then he turned back and with a huge smile and said, ‘But perhaps I should have. It was very, very good. I enjoyed it.’
“I thought I would have to have my smile surgically removed.”
Actors Point Theatre Company presents Man of La Mancha from Thursday, Feb. 23 to Saturday, March 3 at the Hendersonville campus of the Living to Go Church, 1001 Center Point Rd. Performances are Thursdays-Saturdays with dinner served from 6:15 p.m. to 7 p.m. and curtain at 7:30 p.m. Dinner and non-dinner tickets are available; for more information and to purchase tickets call 615-431-9620 or visit www.actorspointtheatre.com/Buy-Tickets.html.http://artnownashvil...parks-memories/