by Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg
I wonder what Cervantes’ character, Don Quixote, would think if he were to spend an hour or two at the conversation table on the plaza at the Bruns? His trusty horse, Rocinante, would be tethered in the car park because we don’t allow horses on site (unless they’re on stage—and never again, not after the nightly clean-up routine for our first staging of Macbeth). There would be hills stretching beyond, enticing Don Quixote with invisible adventures, and the goats he runs into would be replaced by gently lowing cows. Quixote’s stout lance and suit of armor would stand out amongst a sea of puffy jackets. And, just as in his story, our accommodating grounds staff would surely allow him to keep his helmet on, with a straw serving for the reed that gets his wine to his mouth.
And there would be dreams: dreams held up in the face of adversity, dreams abandoned or cherished, dreams that belong not just to our knight errant himself, but to every person sitting at that plaza table. And this is one of the great beauties of Cervantes’ long, rambling story. It’s a story about dreams that keep a man going even when his ear is mangled and anyone else would have given up and gone to bed; dreams that carry him, his friend Sancho and his tired old horse Rocinante, through heat and cold and exhaustion; dreams that transform the world so that Quixote can find a reason to live in it.
As you can see, I love Don Quixote (but advise those of you who haven’t read it to listen to it on tape on a very, very long journey.) But I am positive that, after decades of loving Cervantes’ story, I’m going to love Octavio Solis’s adaptation even more. Solis is back with us again, adapting another classic novel (the last being Steinbeck’s Pastures of Heaven in 2009.) Into our current cynicism, the playwright is infusing the breath of an old, old story, but a story that is primal for us as human beings. What is the sum of a life? No matter who we are, or how much we possess or don’t possess, we all must leave our loved ones, our enemies, our goods and chattels, someday, to cross that border alone beyond this mortal life.
And here is where Octavio’s adventure with Don Quixote begins. He’s renamed Cervantes’ story Quixote Nuevo, signaling the area near El Paso, Texas, where Octavio himself was born and raised. In Quixote Nuevo, Octavio asks Cervantes to travel through time and help us to learn about who we are today. And nothing would make Cervantes’ character, Don Quixote, happier than to oblige: he always thinks he’s right; he knows what it means to gallop full-tilt in the face of reality; and he believes, above all else, that one should always follow one’s dreams. As with all of us, it’s Quixote’s dreams that make him ferociously, vulnerably, poignantly, hilariously human.
And in Quixote Nuevo, he’s dying. Why on earth would he accept this new curve ball from reality when he’s never accepted anything else? Why would he believe the doctors and philosophers who tell him it’s all over? It’s not over—it never will be; because the great gift he has is his imagination, which carries him back, through hurts, heartaches, the crumbling of his aged mind, to the days when all things were possible and all he needed was a horse, a friend and a will of iron. Octavio has taken Cervantes’ marvelous character—the inhabitant of the first novel ever written—and, assisted by director KJ Sanchez and a fabulous creative team, brought him across the Atlantic. In Octavio’s words, he’s endeavored to give Quixote “a different cast, darken his skin, darken his hair, give him roots that are more native to the Americas,” then set him to seek out adventures in La Plancha, Texas. And all we need do is bring our jackets, our wine and our sandwiches, and we can be right there with him.
Quixote Nuevo begins playing June 13. Get tickets here!