Best on the Shoreline!
It's time to nominate your favorites for the 2021 Best on the Shoreline Awards!
Hugo E. Carbajal and Emilio Delgado in the Hartford Stage production of Quixote Nuevo. (Photo courtesy of Hartford Stage )
Juan Manuel Amador in the Hartford Stage production of Quixote Nuevo. (Photo courtesy of Hartford Stage )
Gisela Chipe in the Hartford Stage production of Quixote Nuevo. (Photo courtesy of Hartford Stage )
Emilio Delgado in the Hartford Stage production of Quixote Nuevo. (Photo courtesy of Hartford Stage )
Emilio Delgado and Gianna DiGregorio Rivera in the Hartford Stage production of Quixote Nuevo. (Photo courtesy of Hartford Stage )
Few of us have read Miguel de Cervantes’s classic Spanish novel Don Quixote.
Yet most of us know the story due to the popularity of the musical Man of La Mancha, which tells the story of an aging man who is so caught up in the tradition of chivalry that he goes mad trying to fulfill his ideals. He is searching for his ideal love, Dulcinea, and to right the wrongs of the world. In the novel, he is a member of the lesser Spanish nobility. During his travels, he and his companion Sancho have many adventures.
Opening the Hartford Stage season is Quixote Nuevo, a reimagining of the novel into contemporary times and a southwest locale. Playwright Octavio Solis has set the play in Texas on the Mexican border where he grew up. Instead of a member of lesser nobility, Jose Quijano, who becomes Don Quixote, is a retired professor of literature who specialized in the works of Cervantes.
While some details are changed—he lives with his sister and niece and the sister wants to move him to assisted living—most of the adventures relate directly to those in the book. The inn where Quixote meets Dulcinea is now Rosario’s Lounge, and Dulcinea works as a waitress, among other jobs. His faithful Sancho now rides a bicycle cart selling cold drinks and ice cream.
Solis has resisted the urge to make the play all about immigration, although with it set so close to the border, it is inevitable that some lines and situations reference immigration and the history of many of the residents who came from Mexico.
It is not just a revision of the musical. We learn much more about Jose Quijana’s past and how Dulcinea is more than just a figment of his imagination. We see him as young man in love with a Mexican girl. His abandonment of the woman he loved caused him to spend his entire life regretting it.
Solis has woven in references to aging and the fear of dementia, as well as how society treats older citizens.
KJ Sanchez has directed the nine-person cast with a sure hand. All except Emilio Delgado, who plays Quixote, have multiple roles, yet it is never confusing.
Incorporated into the play is tejano music, the Tex-Mex music that combines folk with popular songs. It provides both added movement and a lighter tone to the serious story.
Takeshi Kata has designed the set and the projections of sky that enhance it. Lighting designer Brian J. Lilienthal has turned that sky into a cascade of colorful variations that help establish time of day and mood. Sound designer David R. Molina, who is co-composer with Eduardo Robeldo, captures the sounds of the music and the area perfectly.
Delgado is excellent as Quixote, encompassing his idealism and his deteriorating physical and mental state. He makes you question how out of touch with reality he is; he may be the sanest most aware person on the stage. It is a taxing role both physically and emotionally, yet Delgado never lets us see the effort it must take during the two-plus hours of the play.
The supporting cast is excellent; you will be drawn to Juan Manuel Amador as Sancho (and his real persona Manny) as well as Gisela Chipe as both Dulcinea and the therapist who wants to treat Jose Quijano.
Hugo E. Carbajal has the showy role of Papá Calaca, a figure that taunts Quixote throughout the story. Cabajal’s performance combines a touch of evil with pure show business.
The play, while in English, includes a number of Spanish phrases as well as idioms from the borderland. Usually, the Spanish phrases are followed immediately with the English equivalent. The program also includes a “Frontera Glossary or border glosario” of words and phrases that are unique to the border area.
This should not be a problem for audiences; the action is clear enough that even if you don’t understand every word, you will know all that is going on. The borderland idioms can create more difficulty; I was surprised that the theater didn’t use superscripts.
Solis has said that he did intend to make this a new version but to claim the saga as a Latino story, not a European one, while adhering the spirit of the original.
He succeeds in doing this; this is a story with great humor and great sadness. While it is centuries old, it is relevant in so many ways to today’s society. It is about dreams, illusions, aging and challenging the rules that everyone expects you to live by.
Quixote Nuevo is a co-production of Fort Worth’s Alley Theatre, where it started performances, and Boston’s Huntington Theatre Company, which will see it in November.
This production will move you; make an effort to see it. For tickets, visit hartfordstage.org or call 860-527-5151.
Karen Isaacs is the Columnists for Zip06. Email Karen at .