Not sure if I’ll get all, or any more, reviewing done, but here’s one, anyway:
It’s a testament to the juvenile nature of my mind that, every time I hear “Don Quixote”, it reformulates in my head as “Donkey Hottie”, which is very near the title of the first porn movie I saw as a freshman in college.
The task of staging this rambling novel in two hours seems impossible (as did the task of staging Crime and Punishment with 3 actors in 90 minutes, which we saw at Intiman earlier this spring). I’ve never read it; my exposure is limited to the tedious translation of parts of it in high school Spanish, a production of Man of La Mancha in college and bedtime anecdotes as Mrs. Perils read both volumes a couple of years ago.
Since most know the basic story line, however, the playright’s task was to select 3 - 4 episodes that would best illustrate the main themes. The short story is that an old man has so besotted himself with romantic novels of knights-errant and chivalry that his friends and caretakers have concluded that he’s become unhinged from reality, and summon the priest to rescue him from the grip of the poisonous fiction.Instead of succumbing to their ministrations, he outfits himself in various household metallic gewgaws, recruits his neighbor Sancho Panza as squire, and sets out in search of conquest.
The intensity and vividness of Quixote’s fantasies lends itself to conflating these imaginings with the act of writing. In the play, this is pretty explicit, and Quixote prides himself in being able to confront a perilous situation, say, “that’s not how this is supposed to be” and basically re-write the outcome. This works a couple of times, and then he confronts a situation with characters that he simply can’t control. Each time he re-writes a situation, it morphs into something he hadn’t foreseen.
Cervantes himself appears as a character in several incarnations, and is not exactly sympathetic to what appears to be a writer’s plight. In fact, Cervantes sits back and heckles his hero at many critical points.
It’s a sometimes-hilarious romp with moments of serious epiphany regarding the rejection of life as it is vs. what you think it should/could be, and the aging process, with some satisfying sotto-voce swipes at the Catholic hegemony. And it’s easy to be swept up in the Impossible-Dream vs. grinding reality upon which both the play and the novel trade.
However, there’s a dark side to the idea of his messianic quest here that kept needling me. I had a literature professor who disdained the Romantic movement, positing that it provided the central myths that the Nazis invoked in their theories of master race. And Quixote is invoking an idealized Spanish era to try to gather followers in his quest. The only person who actually follows him is Panza, and I think he does so not because he believes in his master’s fantasy as much as that he simply wants to shirk his duties on the farm. Still, people are put in peril due to Quixote’s exercises. You start to wonder how, with a strikingly similar starting point, Hitler succeeded and Quixote failed.
But that dark side is in my head, and nowhere to be found in the play. It was staged outdoors in the Elizabethan theater, under balmy, starry skies. I have to remark upon a hilarious scene wherein one of the long-time actors in the company, Robin Goodrin Nordli, lurchingly sneaks into a bedroom shared by Quixote, Cervantes (in mufti) and Panza, intending to jump Cervantes’ bones but instead alighting upon the indignant (and immediately enraged) Quixote. If you go, watch for this scene.