Review: Octavio Solis' 'Quixote Nuevo' At Hartford Stage
The show: “Quixote Nuevo” at Hartford Stage.
What makes it special?: It’s not a world premiere, but almost. The work was first commissioned and produced by California Shakespeare Theatre (CalShakes) but since then Solis has developed it further and now this new production — with the same terrific lead actor (Emilio Delgado) and KJ Sanchez as director — is getting three major regional theaters to present the show: Hartford Stage is the first stop, before the production moves onto Boston’s Huntington Theatre and then Houston’s Alley Theater.
What’s it about?: Solis take the essence of Miguel Cervantes’ “Don Quixote” and transforms the setting to a contemporary American border town and the characters to figures that are readily identifiable, some more to others. This time out Quixote is a Cervantes’ professor living in Texas and, like Cervantes’ title character, is experiencing Quixote-like madness in the form of early stages of dementia.
That does make it an interesting parallel and sort of explains a lot about the original, too: Absolutely. What also makes this production special is that it stars Emilio Delgado, who played Luis, the Fix-It Shop owner on “Sesame Street” from 1971 to 2017. It’s a meaningful casting for Solis who got chocked up recently at the Mark Twain House event when he spoke about what the actor meant to him as a boy growing up in El Paso. But it also presents a figure many generations of television viewers— and no doubt many in the audience here — who know him as a virtual friend. Following this character’s mad adventures becomes much more personal, intimate and loving.
But what about the play and the production? It is a transformative and episodic journey with music.
Oh, like ‘Man of La Mancha?: No, nothing like ‘Man of La Mancha",” though there was a moment or two when that musical’s lilting score hovered in the back of my brain. Instead the music here comes from authentic sources and beautifully presented. There’s singing and dancing and mythology and cultural signifiers from Latin X, Aztec, Chicano and Nature American traditions that give the production a sense of realness. It’s humor , like Cervantes’ book, is quirky ,resilient, ironic, self-effacing, playful, mad and even sweet.
Sounds appealing: Very much so. And it’s a journey that is not just of Jose Quijano (Delgado) as he escapes the threat of being sent to assisted living center by his family, priest and social worker and seeks out on a quest to find a lost love: a young migrant worker he fell in love with when he was a young man. In a way, it’s a journey of the heart. Its also an odyssey for all of us.
In what way?: Delgado’s dreamer — whether he is professor or the reincarnate Quixote — shows us a world that is unfamiliar to many of us, and rarely seen on stage as the story deals with issues of mental health, with immigration, of the multi-layers of complexity of a population that lives in the shadows but with American Dreams of their own.
But best intentions would not mean much if the script was not as clever, funny, and full of grace and poetry as this is and the production was not as wonderfully cast and staged . The production values, too, are first-rate, especially the costumes by Rachel Healy and Brian L. Lilienthal’s lighting which illuminates the many moods and vistas along the way, including a gorgeous and ever-changing Southwest sky, nicely rendered by scenic designer Takeshi Kata. David R. Molina;’s score and sound design give the show its musical soul.
Juan Manuel Amador is a delight as a flavored-ice vendor who gets swept up in his role as stand-in for Sancho Panza. Hugo E. Carbajal is also impressive with striking presence as a haunting death — and other characters. (Most everyone but Delgado and Amador take on multiple parts.) Making the social worker as a double for Dulcinea gives both parts special resonance, and played beautifully by Gisela Chipe.
Ivan Jasso, Krystal Hernandez, Orlando Arriaga, Mariela Lopez-Ponce and Gianna DiGregorio Rivera make up the rest of the excellent cast
Who will like it?: Fans of Cervantes (and Solis). Those looking for new connections in classic works.
Who wont?: Trump. ICE agents. Those who don’t like classic tampering.
For the kids? Absolutely. Its great storytelling and much fun. And much to talk about after,
Is it in Spanish?: There’s many words and phrases used throughout the show. Not to worry. You’ll understand them in context and maybe even increase your vocabulary.
Twitter review in 140 characters or less: This glorious, playful, sad, and touching road trip strikes close to home in a production that tears down some walls you might not expect, about who we are and what theater can be.
Thoughts on leaving the parking lot: I love that the work is marketed as a new American play. In its embrace of cultures, community and dreamers it is a reminder of the epic swirl that makes up the American character.
The basics: The production wikllk play through Oct. 13 at the theater 50 Church St. in downtown Hartford. Running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes with one 15-minute intermission. Information at 860-527-5151 and on the theater’s website at hartfiordstage.org.