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Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

adapted to the stage by Octavio Solis

Noble knight or raving lunatic? Embracing both aching humanity and earthy humor, Octavio Solis’s adaptation of Don Quixote is a colorful, action-packed re-imagining of the Spanish epic adventure. In his quest for the bygone days of chivalry, our aging hero jumbles reality and imagination as he forges a noble but messy trail across the plains of La Mancha. Cervantes’ classic comedy is directed in a grand theatrical world premiere by Laird Williamson (On the Razzle, Cyrano de Bergerac).
8:00 performance, August 14th, 2009.
 

If you’ve never seen/read Don Quixote, click here for all you need to know.

                Once again, if you’re planning to see this play at Ashland you might want to skip this entry if you want to avoid spoilers.


 Photos by David Cooper.  Don Quixote (Armando Duran) and Rocinante (James J. Peck).


                Don Quixote was a novel I read in my sophomore year of high school.   When I think back to the book now, my primary recollection about it was that it was l-o-o-o-ng. I mean, we are talking 1000+ pages long. It was good, and entertaining, but man, I was working on that book for months.   Anyway, it has been at least ten years since then so I hoped the play wouldn’t be too confusing.

                I needn’t have worried. Octavio Solis did an excellent job sorting through the many plots of Don Quixote and picking the best bits for the stage while adding his own twist to things. Don Quixote is still an aging hidalgo inspired to adventure by too many chivalric romances, but he is egged on by the author Cervantes, who appears again and again in the varying guises of a fellow traveler, galley slave, muleteer, etc. It’s never quite clear who is in control of the story; is this avatar of Cervantes orchestrating the events of the play or merely recording Quixote’s exploits? 

The question is further muddled by Don Quixote’s periodic visions, in which a secondary story unfolds. Cardenio and Lucinda, under Don Quixote’s helpful advice on romance (borrowed from the books he so adores) are deeply in love, but forced to part when Cardenio is called to serve Don Fernando. At first Quixote is convinced he is helping the lovers, but when their lives fail to follow the plots of his romances he is baffled.   At first we think the lovers’ story is all in Quixote’s mind – Sancho Panza cannot see the visions of Cardenio and Lucinda - but in the second act their story joins with his. Towards the end Don Quixote even seems to hint that he is well-aware that his fantasy world is mere delusion, but so what? He’s happy to create his own story.

Armando Duran simply nails Don Quixote. He was perfect, just the way I’d always imagined the character. He had the character’s dignity and gallantry, and carried himself with perfect gravitas even when attacking puppet sheep made with tube socks (yes!) and riding around the stage on Rocinante, his faithful nag.  
 


 Sancho Panza (Josiah Phillips) astride Dapple.

The costumes and sets of this production were quite fanciful. Sancho Panza wears blue overalls and rides his dearest donkey Dapple, which is a bicycle (tricycle? I wasn’t quite sure which) covered with a donkey-shaped head and body. Rocinante is played by two actors, an Anterior and Posterior; when Don Quixote wishes to mount he stands between them and they form a human chain sashaying around the stage. There were puppets of sheep constructed of tube socks, vultures made of shredded tire rubber, and geese that rolled around the stage on wheels. Wacky hijinks all over the place.

Don Quixote was ridiculous, but not silly. Some of the other people in my group complained that the play was trying too hard to be clever, but I didn’t find that to be so. I thought Solis did a fine job staying true to Cervantes’s satirical tale while updating it just enough to keep modern audiences enthralled.

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