Thursday, October 10, 2019

Review of "Quixote Nuevo"

When most people attuned to the theater think of the Miguel de Cervantes novel, Don Quixote, the musical Man of La Mancha comes to mind.  However, this could soon change as the new work by playwright Octavio Solis, Quixote Nuevo, also based on the classic Spanish novel, becomes more widely seen around the country.  This reimagining of the befuddled knight-errant and his loyal squire is a hallucinatory roller coaster of dreamscapes and powerful metaphors.  The work can be very funny, seductively moving, and highly engaging.  The play is at Hartford Stage through October 13th.

Solis has relocated the setting to the desert outside El Paso, Texas where we find Jose Quijano, a.k.a. Don Quixote, a former University professor of literature, now grasping with reality.  His family and friends, unable to care for his needs, look to settle him in a 24-hour care facility.  Before they can follow through with their relocation efforts, the aged faculty member slips out of the household to seek adventure and reunite with his lost love, Dulcinea.  He recruits a local paletas (ice pops) vendor, Manny Diaz, a.k.a. Sancho Panchez, to assist him as he roams the nearby landscape battling real impediments and imagined demons, all the while searching for his long-ago love.  In the end, battered and on his death bed, with his family now at his side, Don Quixote is able to make peace with his life and departed inamorata.

The strength of Quixote Nuevo is the inventiveness of the playwright, the metaphoric language and symbols he has assembled, and the assured direction and resourcefulness of Director KJ Sanchez.  One example employed is the cacophony of nightmarish and comical characters, sometimes breaking out in folklore tinged song and dance, that follow and mock Quixote.

One of the central images conveyed throughout the play is “The Wall.”  An easy interpretation of this emblem would touch on political turmoil and immigration unrest at the borders.  However, while these attributes are on full display in the show, “The Wall” means so much more.  According to Solis this includes “the barrier between reality and fantasy…love and fear…and life and death.”

The first-rate cast, with many of the performers playing multiple roles, is led by Emilio Delgado as Jose Quijano/Don Quixote.  The actor, lapsing in and out of reality throughout the show, is superb as the sometimes helpless, but consistently determined academician.  He has a world-weariness coupled with an innocence as he carries out his quest.  Juan Manuel Amador as Manny Diaz/Sancho Pancho gives a noteworthy comedic performance throughout the production.  He delves into physical humor, verbal assaults, and slapstick clowning.  But his portrayal of Sancho is more layered than just a joking sidekick.  He comes to believe and cherish the resolve of Quixote, moving from protecting the old man from himself to helping shepherd him on his quest.

Takeshi Kata’s Scenic Design conjures up the simple, sometimes unforgiving landscape of the Southwestern United States.  Rachel Healy’s Costume Designs are whimsical, wild, and wholly original.  David Molina and Eduardo Robledo’s musical compositions add a more authentic Latino flavor to the show.

Quixote Nuevo, thought-provoking and entertaining.  Playing at Hartford Stage through October 13th.

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