Move over, “Man of La Mancha,’’ and make a little room for “Quixote Nuevo.’’
“Don Quixote,” the literary creation of seventeenth-century Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes, is an indefatigable character with a big imagination, one wild enough to make giants out of windmills and castles out of roadside inns. But even Quixote couldn’t have imagined what the present-day southern United States border would become: here, in recent years, an abstract line on a map has been turned into an all-too-real militarized zone – one that many times separates families and even incarcerates others.
And, as late as last Thursday, President Joe Biden defended his administration's decision to waive 26 federal laws in South Texas to allow for construction of roughly 20 additional miles of border wall, saying he had no choice but to use the Trump-era funding for the barrier to stop illegal migration from Mexico. So, perhaps it’s no surprise that this region of contested American dreams and literature’s most famous hallucinator would eventually come together.
And now, in this special 60th season presentation on the Segerstrom Stage at SCR, playing through October 28th, El Paso-born playwright Octavio Solis’ latest Golden Age adaptation of the famous classic, simply called “Quixote Nuevo,” continues the conversation about the borderlands between Mexico and the United States.
Solis, who studied at San Antonio’s Trinity University and Dallas Theater Center, has written more than twenty plays that have been produced all over the country. “Quixote Nuevo,” which Solis developed slowly over years through workshops primarily at California Shakespeare Theater, reimagines Quixote as an elderly Spanish literature professor in far West Texas who is beginning to lose his memory, and, in his neuro-divergent state, confuse himself with his favorite literary character.
Played by Herbert Siguenza (a playwright himself, and of the well-known Chicano/Latino performance group “Culture Clash”), this newfangled Quixote sets off on a mission to find a long-lost love and becomes a borderland hero in the process. In this very unique, inspired version of the story, however, he’s not fighting windmills, but rather the border patrol.
In this production, Solis peels off a whole new layer, transforming the setting with charismatic characters who are very authentic and readily relatable, some more than others. This time out Mr. Siguenza’s José Quijano is a retired Cervantes’ scholar who’s on the ropes, living in La Plancha, Texas and, like before, is experiencing a delusional-like madness in the form of early stages of dementia.
He has led a disappointing life, and is being taken care of by his exasperated but concerned sister. His response to the dying of his mental light is to turn into his literary hero, mounting a tricycle with the skull of Rocinante on the front and pedaling off, with a bedpan for a helmet. A priest, a shrink, and frazzled family members go in hot pursuit. But this is an American Quixote, so Quijano is not just about righting wrongs and searching for Dulcinea — he’s grappling with his longtime guilt over his treatment of a Mexican girl, an illegal, who he loved in his youth.
Interestingly, the story increasingly becomes about his working out his psychological trauma as he turns toward a life in assisted living. Along the way he meets up with Manny Diaz (Ernie Gonzalez, Jr.), a proprietor of a mobile ice cream cart, who becomes his knockabout Sancho Panza. As in the book, trusty sidekick Panza learns, painfully, that it is best to keep a firm eye on reality at all times.
The music here comes from credible sources and is beautifully presented. Set to the spirited sounds of Tejano melodies, there’s not only much singing and dancing, but there’s mythology and cultural signifiers from Latin X, Aztec, Chicano and Nature American traditions that give the production a sense of pageantry. Its humor, like Cervantes’ book, is quirky, resilient, ironic, self-effacing, playful, mad, and even sweet as we delve into a very poignant exploration of one of literature’s most vibrant characters.
There are also moments of pathos along the way, such as a ghostly immigrant remembering his vanished family. Yet there is also quite a bit of sentimentality — and broad rather than pointed japes — that make us chagrined about the inequities that all of us passively perpetrate at one time or another, or at least aid and abet.
Herbert Siguenza’s Quixote is gung-ho throughout, proffering a vast rhetorical range, as well as a fair share of whimsical anger, haplessness, depression, and inspired visions. Meanwhile, the cast, under the jaunty direction of Director Lisa Portes, is impressively versatile, while Mr. Gonzalez’ Sancho is solidly comic. But a much more developed character in terms of growth, especially his final synthesis of admiration for idealism and embracement of pragmatism.
Working from the expansive template of Miguel de Cervantes’s sprawling “Don Quixote,’’ playwright Octavio Solis has fashioned a highly inventive meditation on old age and its sorrows — and on the gnawing desire for second chances that can arrive late in life — while also mining a rich vein of comedy. It’s a balancing act Cervantes would have certainly admired.
SOUTH COAST REPERTORY, in Association with Portland Center Stage & Seattle Rep, Presents, QUIXOTE NUEVO, by OCTAVIO SOLIS; Directed by LISA PORTES; Choreographed by MARISSA HERRERA; Scenic Design by EFREN DELGADILLO JR; Costume & Puppet Design by HELEN Q. HUANG; Puppet Movement Consultant ESTELA GARCIA; Lighting Design by PABLO SANTIAGO; Original Music & Sound Design by DAVID R. MOLINA; Additional Song Compositions by EDUARDO ROBLEDO; Musically Directed by JESSE J. SANCHEZ; Dance Captain VIVIAN GARZA; Intimacy Consultant & Fight Direction by MICHAEL POLAK; Production Stage Manager SHAWNA VORAGEN.
STARRING: HERBERT SIGUENZA; RAUL CARDONA; VIVIANA GARZA; LAURA CROTTE; SOL CASTILLO; MAYA MALAN-GONZALEZ; LAKIN VALDEZ; ALEXIS B. SANTIAGO; ERNIE GONZALEZ JR. UNDERSTUDIES: SOL CASTILLO, ALICIA COCA, AMILCAR JAUREGUI, TONY SANCHO.
QUIXOTE NUEVO is being presented at SOUTH COAST REPERTORY from September 30—October 28, with Performances on Sundays at 2PM, Wednesdays & Thursdays at 7:30PM, Fridays at 8PM, Saturdays at 2:30PM & 8PM. Two hours, 15 min., plus one intermission. A special event, INSIDE THE SEASON featuring in-depth interviews with cast members, creative team and artisans from SCR's production staff is available on Saturday, October 21 at 11AM. 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, CA 92626Ticket prices range from $29-105.
For Ticket Reservations, see www.scr.org
Arts & Entertainment Reviewer
The Show Report
Photo Credits: Jenny Graham