BWW Review: QUIXOTE NUEVO at Hartford Stage
There are some stories that have a timeless quality, speaking to the aches and the joys of modern life regardless of the era in which they are told. Such is the classic tale of Don Quixote, a story that, when Miguel de Cervantes published it in 1605, took on a certain meaning and century after century has been seen through an evolving lens, from comic novel to tragic statement against nobility. But in Octavio Solis' new play QUIXOTE NUEVO, which opens Hartford Stage's 2019/2020 season, the infamous Spanish Knight of La Mancha has become the Latino Knight of La Plancha (Texas) battling border surveillance drones instead of windmills and fighting for the undocumented versus the poor citizens of war-ravaged Spain.
If you are familiar with the source material, QUIXOTE NUEVO follows quite closely, modernizing the setting of the story but retaining the central concept of the original tale. The play centers on a retired professor and Cervantes scholar, Jose Quijano (Emilio Delgado), who begins to confuse reality with the setting and characters in the books he taught for many years. He believes himself to be Don Quixote, the chivalrous knight who must leave on a quest to find his lost love, Dulcinea, before real life (and a retirement home) catches up with him. He leaves his sister Magdalena's (Mariela Lopez-Ponce) home in search of his love, leading Magdalena, her daughter Antonia (Gianna DiGregorio Rivera), the Padre Perez (Orlando Arriaga) and his therapist, Dr. Campos (Gisela Chipe) on a desperate search across the fictional West Texas border town of La Plancha to find him and bring him home. He soon meets a young neighbor, Manny Diaz (Juan Manuel Amador), and believes him to be his squire, Sancho Panza. Manny, desperate for adventure and with concern for Jose, plays along. The two unlikely friends journey into parts of the community that Quijana never visited before, including a dive bar run by Rosario Castillo (Krystal Hernandez) and her husband Bruno (Ivan Jasso). Along the way they are haunted by demons who become a taunting chorus, singing Tejano melodies and moving the story along. Like his namesake, this Don Quixote acquires the "golden helmet of mambrino" (a bedpan), battles the aforementioned drones, and journeys into the desert to complete his quest and find his Dulcinea. As you might expect in a piece set on the border in modern times, the "wall" features prominently, but not always in the way one might expect. Yes, it is the barrier between Mexico and the U.S., but it also takes on new meaning as the barrier between sanity and insanity, fantasy and reality, and between life and death.
Octavio Solis' script for QUIXOTE NUEVO is filled with a well-balanced mix of humor, absurd fantasy, and serious subject matter, painted with a lyrical quality that often leverages Spanish phrases and vocabulary to maximum effect. His story feels fresh, relevant and thought provoking, but also feels familiar and comfortable due to the source material. For a non-Spanish speaker, I didn't pick up all of the quick Spanish phrases that are spoken throughout the script, some of which must have been quite funny due to the laughter in the theatre - but that didn't detract from the evening at all. Overall Solis' story is both heart-warming and heartbreaking at the same time; it is quite satisfying.
Director KJ Sanchez has done a beautiful job telling this story at Hartford Stage. She brilliantly weaves the music (by David R. Molina), the bright and bold costumes (by Rachel Healy) and the setting (by Takeshi Kata) along with a top notch cast to bring this story to magnificent life. Her direction is fluid and urgent, balancing the absurdity of the situation with the gravity of it all.
Speaking of the cast, QUIXOTE NUEVO boasts a hard working cast who play multiple characters that bring this story to life. In the lead role of Quijana/Quixote, Emilio Delgado is inspired. He pulls off both pitiful and revered in a single look and elicits from the audience equal parts concern and praise for his noble quest and the impact it has on those around him. The veteran actor, best known from his role as Luis on Sesame Street, also shows off a lovely singing voice, that, to this reviewer brought back many fond memories of childhood. As Sancho, Juan Manuel Amador is hilarious, and has some of the best and funniest scenes of the evening. The ensemble, as mentioned, supports the story quite well, embodying many characters and voices along the way.
QUIXOTE NUEVO is the kind of play that helps shine new light on a familiar story, touches your heart in a way you weren't expecting, and leaves you thoughtfully pondering the plight of those less fortunate. It is a beautifully told play, one that speaks to our current reality in vivid terms, using color, music, and fantasy to point to those things that might often be missed.
QUIXOTE NUEVO runs at Hartford Stage in Hartford, CT through October 13. Hartford Stage is located at 50 Church Street, Hartford, CT 06103. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8:00 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. There will be a Wednesday matinee on October 2. Weekly schedules vary. For tickets or for more information call 860-527-5151 or visit www.hartfordstage.org.
Top Photo: Emilio Delgado and the cast of Quixote Nuevo
Mid-Photo 1: Juan Manuel Amador
Mid-Photo 2: Emilio Delgado (front), Hugo E. Carbajal, and the cast of Quixote Nuevo
Bottom Photo: Emilio Delgado