Review: Quixote Nuevo by Octavio Solis based on Cervantes’ Don Quixote. At Seattle Rep Through February 11, 2024.
Octavio Solis’ play, Quixote Nuevo, is a treat for both Spanish and English speakers when you can pick out the interplay of puns and alliteration and literary references. In Quixote Nuevo, he mirrors the well-known tale of Don Quixote, who loved Dulcinea and tried to fight the powers-that-be.
He chooses a professor, Jose Quijano (played with elegance and verve by Herbert Siguenza), of the author Cervantes, who wrote Don Quixote. The professor is accelerating in his decline toward dementia and his family feels he’d be safer in an assisted living facility. Jose becomes a “new” Quixote, escapes his concerned family and townsfolk, and begins a search for Dulcinea. But escaping also presents great danger, as his inability to see where reality ends and fantasy starts could cause him to forget to eat or drink out in the bleak desert on the border of Texas.
The tone of the play is often joyful, yet mixed with pain. Large puppets are used to menace and to entrance. Tejano music is used masterfully to demonstrate parts of the story and underscore moments of emotional outbursts.
The actors, working as an ensemble, become friends, family, and observers. Everyone except Quijano has at least two characters to play and everyone inhabits their various roles expertly. The entire cast uses beautifully rendered costumes and puppetry, throughout. (Cast: Raúl Cardona, Viviana Garza, Laura Crotte, Sol Castillo, Maya Malan-Gonzalez, Lakin Valdez, Alicia Coca, Ernie González, Jr., Costumes: Helen Q. Huang)
Director Lisa Portes uses the stage fully – a craggy, mountain/desert set (designer Efren Delgadillo, Jr.) with doors and hiding places. Choreographer Marissa Herrera creates energetic dances (mostly) for the puppet movement. David R. Molina is the composer of the rousing Tejano music.
While Quijano’s wandering is enjoyable, Solis infuses Texas border issues with menace and great sadness. U.S. border agents harass a bar, and deep in the desert, Quijano meets a man whose family has been destroyed by the attempt at a better life. A couple of jokes reference very current politics. These infusions are an important part of the experience of the play.
Comedy is abundant and Ernie González, Jr. is wonderful as the good-natured and slightly befuddled Manny, who gets dubbed Sancho Panza, and dragged along on the journey. As Juana, Manny’s wife, Alicia Coca has great comic timing as she anxiously screeches, “Manny!” in an absurd echo of Quijano’s desires for Dulcinea.
There is so much to appreciate about this production. I’m sure that Spanish-speakers appreciate the infusion of Spanish as roughly half of the dialogue. I understand very little Spanish, and I had to trust that what I could catch of the English was enough to carry the story for me.
The show is one that may draw in some new theatergoers, which is terrific. Since I make an assumption that many of them might be younger, I wonder if they will arrive already fully aware of the story of Don Quixote and his side-kick Sancho Panza, and the elusive Dulcinea. Hopefully, they’ll be able to follow the broad strokes of that story, and maybe it will encourage them to seek out the original.
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