Tim Leininger, Contributing Critic - Connecticut
There have been many adaptations of the Don Quixote story, originally written by Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes in the early 17th Century, from the Joe Darion and Mitch Leigh musical “Man of La Mancha” to the Terry Gilliam film, “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.”
Playwright Octavio Solis has brought Quixote to a modern-day American setting with the prescient musical play “Quixote Nuevo” at Hartford Stage directed by KJ Sanchez, running through Oct. 13.
Set in and around the fictional Texas border town of La Plancha, mentally declining literature professor Jose Quijano, — played by long time Sesame Street star Emilio Delgado — is being wrangled by his family and friends to be put in a senior care facility.
Not content to live out his final days in a room where he’d slowly dwindle to nothingness, he takes up his helm, er bedpan — or more properly “headpan,” — in a fit of passion taking on the persona of Don Quixote on a quest for his beloved Dulcinea (Gisela Chipe) who is across the border in Mexico.
Along the way, he picks up his neighbor, ice cream salesman Manny Diaz (Juan Manuel Amador) to be his Sancho Panza.
The two go on adventures addressing the current socio-political climate on the border, meeting migrant workers, immigrants, and Border Patrol agents.
Solis’ writing is a beautiful blend of Spanish and English jumping back and forth between the two languages. Though knowledge of both languages would be beneficial to understand the entirety of the humor throughout the show, it won’t prohibit most people from following the story.
The beauty behind Solis’ language is the lyrical quality of the text. The words roll of the lips of the actors with an almost singing quality, and though the play isn’t a musical there are musical moments included as well, that gives the play a certain Mexican romanticism.
There are moments though when the language loses its poetic nature, usually when the language has to take a back seat to the immediate political issue being dealt with in the scene. It’s not that the issue shouldn’t be addressed, but the meter and flow of the dialogue becomes a bit more rigid at times, losing the color that elevates the rest of the text.
The same issue occurs with some of the ancillary friends and family characters that surround Quijano and Manny. This may be intentional since those characters lack the vision and fantasy that have consumed the two heroes. Whether it is a directing choice or a writing choice or an acting choice, it makes, the characters come off a bit stiff and uninteresting compared to Quijano and Manny.
Delgado gives a bittersweet, sensitive, yet, at times, hysterical performance as Quijano/Quixote. His back and forth between being cogent and riding through his delusions is beautifully detailed at times, and his confrontation with a Border Patrol balloon drone is absolutely absurd.
The depth of his abilities as an actor though are reflected in his subconscious moments that are represented on stage through interactions with Papa Calaca (Hugo E. Carbajal) — Calaca being a colloquial Mexican Spanish name for skeleton. Papa Calaca is a sort of emissary of the dead coming to collect Quixote, whom Quijano/Quixote vehemently defies.
As enjoyable as Delgado is, Amador gives the most impressive performance of the night. His beleaguered Manny is riotously funny and doesn’t have a weak moment on stage.
Takeshi Kata’s scenic design is gorgeous. Particularly the backdrop, which has such meticulously, detailed clouds they seem to be three-dimensional.
“Quixote Nuevo” is a great start for the new season of Hartford Stage and a touching 2 ½ hours of drama and comedy.
Theater: Hartford Stage
Location: 50 Church St., Hartford
Production: Written by Octavio Solis; Directed by KJ Sanchez; Scenic Design by Takeshi Kata; Costume Design by Rachel Healy; Lighting Design by Brian J. Lilienthal; Composer and Sound Design by David R. Molina: Co-Composer: Eduardo Robledo; Music Direction by Jesse Sanchez; Fight Direction by Ted Hewlett; Vocal and Dialect Coach: Robert Ramirez
Showtimes: Evening: Tuesday and Thursday 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday 8 p.m. Matinee: Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday 2 p.m. Schedule varies week to week.
Tickets: $25 to $95. Available online at www.hartfordstage.org, by phone at 860-527-5151, or at the box office.