By Donalevan Maines
“Just another op’nin’ of another show,” from Cole Porter’s classic Kiss Me, Kate, probably doesn’t begin to describe Alex Stutler’s joy over stepping onstage this month at the brand-spankin’ new Queensbury Theatre (formerly Country Playhouse) to play the title role in “the impossible dream” musical, Man of La Mancha.
The production itself has been a long time coming: most recently, its opening was delayed a week from July 24, which is the day Stutler married his longtime partner, John Aaron Villarreal. “Lord, what were we thinking?” says the blushing groom about planning a wedding on the same day as his Man of La Mancha opening.
“I am actually kind of relieved and not so overwhelmed,” Stutler adds, upon learning that the show would be delayed because the parking garage next to the theater was not complete.
The couple insisted that July 24 would be the date of their wedding, “a very small ceremony” at their home in northwest Houston. “While we have been together and married in our hearts and minds since 1993, we really became a ‘family’ once our [adopted] daughter officially joined us on July 24, 2010,” explains Stutler. “This makes the date special to us as a family. True, an ‘idealized’ family starts with a marriage and then proceeds to children, in a very Ozzie and Harriet sort of formula. But in current times, an ‘idealized’ family is as common as a unicorn. We don’t aspire to be unicorns—just a family.”
Stutler and Villarreal stubbornly waited until same-sex marriage became legal in Texas before walking down the aisle. “We met at the gym,” says Stutler. “I was going to school at Rice University, so I would go at odd hours. He worked [at the gym where I worked out] as a trainer, and we saw each other coming and going; we nodded at each other for quite some time. Then one night I was out for a cheap dinner at James Coney Island, and there he was. To see him at the world’s worst food place humanized him for me.”
The guys started talking and, Stutler says, “I haven’t gone home since.”
Likewise, Stutler made his nest at Rice from the time he arrived from Longview in 1989 to major in vocal performance and English literature. Living in Jones College, among a community of dormitories “where everyone knew each other,” Stutler performed in Sweeney Todd, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and even Hamlet while earning a bachelor’s degree in music.
Upon graduating, he says, “I never left. The school has stuck with me,” explaining that he stayed to work in the school’s opera department, serving more than 45 fully staged productions as stage manager and properties master. Currently, he is employed as the scheduling coordinator for Rice’s Shepherd School of Music.
Villarreal owns John Aaron Massage and Wellness, working as a life and health coach, personal trainer, and massage therapist.
Their daughter, Alexis Villarreal, whom they call “Lexi,” is seven and about to enter second grade at Lovett Elementary, a fine-arts magnet school near Meyerland.
A production of Urinetown at Main Street Theater is where Stutler met out director Andrew Ruthven, who tapped him to play both Miguel de Cervantes, a 16th-century tax collector, and his alter ego, Don Quixote, in Man of La Mancha at Queensbury Theatre.
“If you’re a guy in musical theater, this role is on your bucket list,” says Stutler—and not just for the opportunity to belt out “The Impossible Dream” and “Man of La Mancha (I, Don Quixote).”
“Both fortunately and unfortunately, those have been sung by every lounge singer on the planet, so they immediately speak to the audience about reaching for goals.”
But to portray Cervantes/Quixote in Man of La Mancha (which won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, when it debuted on Broadway in 1965) is to study how the main character, a minor nobleman, reads so many tales of chivalrous knights that he goes “mad” and sets out to “add grace to the world.”
“Quixote flatly denies a reality that, to his perception, is wholly and unforgivably flawed,” explains Stutler. “If the real world is ‘base and debauched as can be,’ then he will choose to live in another world and, by God, drag the rest of the ‘real’ world along with him. You hear a lot about ‘becoming the change that you desire.’ Quixote does this with steadfast abandon. That really does not seem all that crazy if you think about it.
“The amazing thing about Quixote, and Cervantes, is that their views, and their ideals, prove to be communicable,” adds Stutler. “By the end of the play, everyone who comes in contact with the two characters is altered to reflect some aspect of this world view. The play is transformative. By the end of the show, no character is quite the same as when he or she started, and as Quixote’s song says, ‘The world will be better for this.’ I can only hope this is true for the audience, as well.”
Stutler calls himself “by nature, a cynic,” but explains that Man of La Mancha demands that he leave all of his cynicism at the door to play Cervantes/Quixote. “Bringing any level of cynicism to Man of La Mancha is to do it a major injustice, both as an actor and as a theater patron,” he warns. “The actor, and the audience, has to trust Cervantes, root for Quixote, and believe that a person can change the world by living the impossible dream. A person can’t go into the play with the feeling that this is folly. You can’t leave the play without wishing you, too, could tilt at the world’s windmills and at the end of your days be a Dulcinea or a Quixote or a Cervantes. You have to release your cynicism and embrace belief, at least for a little while. And maybe a little while can be enough. You must live your life—live it truly and honestly and, by doing so, change the world. Every dream is impossible until it isn’t any longer.”
Country Playhouse was founded in 1956 as a nonprofit community theater showcasing local actors and directors. Its first production was Lawrence Riley’s Personal Appearance at Memorial Drive Elementary School. Its location since 1981 has been at 12802 Queensbury Lane in west Houston’s Town & Country Village.
The theater worked for seven years with Dan Moody III and Moody Rambin Real Estate Interests to bring to fruition a recently expanded facility by Kirksey Architecture that includes a 250-seat main stage and a smaller black-box theater.
“We have a unique opportunity that allows us to take a huge step forward in our mission of serving the artistic appetite of not only the west Houston community, but the entire city at large,” says John Paul Stevenson, who is both president of the group’s board of directors and the Houston Rockets public-address announcer who whips the Toyota Center into a frenzy at basketball games.
“This is a transcendent moment for Country Playhouse,” adds Bonnie Hewett, artistic director of Queensbury Theatre. “With the building of our new theater and the unveiling of our new name, we are taking a giant and important step onto center stage of the Houston theater scene.”
What: Man of La Mancha
When: Through August 30
Where: Queensbury Theatre, 12777Queensbury Ln., near Beltway 8 and I-10
Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.