Quixote Nuevo Remixes a Classic Hero for the Modern Day
December 6, 2019 | By Anna Tobin
Shuffling on stage in long, gray underwear, José Quijano (Emilio Delgado) waves a dented, lusterless sword in the air. His posture and thin frame suggest the weakness of old age, but his voice resounds with the steadfastness of a knight. He raises arms against the mischievous ensemble of Calacas, demons of the underworld, that taunt him, and he vows to avoid their clutches. Suddenly pulled from this dream, he wakes up at his desk, back to his reality as an old man in the care of his family.
Photos Courtesy of T. Charles Erickson
This scene opens Quixote Nuevo, a musical adaptation of Cervantes’ classic novel Don Quixote, and sets the expectations of its hero’s loose perception of reality. The play, which will be performed at Huntington Avenue Theater until Dec. 8, follows José, an aging literature professor who specializes in Cervantes and suffers from the symptoms of dementia. He forgets names, confuses his past with his present, and as a last defense against the threat of being put in an assisted living facility, takes up the identity of Don Quixote. He escapes the care of his sister Magdelena (Sarita Ocón) and niece Antonia (Gianna DiGregorio Rivera), determined to travel over the border to Mexico, back to his proclaimed love, Dulcinea (Gisela Chípe). He convinces his neighbor and local ice cream vendor Manny Diaz (Juan Manuel Amador) to be his squire, going by the name of Sancho Panza, and together the two set off on a deluded journey.
Set near the Mexican border in La Plancha, Texas, the play recontextualizes the classic Spanish story to a modern Mexican-American setting. The story revolves around Mexican and Mexican-American characters, caught up in the modern conflicts and politics of immigration and border control. Instead of battling windmills, Quixote, doning armor made of repurposed junk, squares up against Border Patrol and declares himself the defender of “the unemployed, the uninsured, and the undocumented.” To match, the music, composed by David R. Molina, is inspired by the sounds of several Mexican and border genres, including Banda, Mariachi, and Norteño. The soundtrack provides the perfect atmospheric touch that fleshes out and cues the realities that José moves between.
The dialogue of Quixote Nuevo is particularly punchy, poetic, and sentimental in a way that compliments the comedy and bittersweetness of the story. Playwright Octavio Solis, who acted as a consultant for Pixar’s Coco, infuses the dialogue with Spanish phrases and slang that enrich and naturalize the interactions between the characters, conveying their multinational roots. Though this hybrid language may be frustrating to non-Spanish speakers, the actors provide enough context with their gestures and expressions to fill in any blanks. The quick, boisterous, and witty dialogue sets the pace for the first act, supplies the humor, and convinces the audience to ride along in the story’s absurdity.
Photos Courtesy of T. Charles Erickson
While on the surface, the adventures of Quixote and Sancho are hilariously outlandish, but underneath there is the tragic reality of an old man desperately seeking to right the wrongs of his past. Haunted by the choices he made, José’s delusion becomes his armor. As Don Quixote, he can protect the innocent, uphold the chivalrous code of a knight, and most importantly, keep on hoping. Hope is what sustains Quixote: hope for justice, hope for victory, and hope for love. As a retired professor slipping into obscurity, Joé needs Quixote to feel those last bits of hope. This desperate need is conveyed through Delgado’s performance in such a heartbreaking way. He looks longingly at the figures of his past, and his physicality shifts at a dime when he goes from the fragility of José to the confident, powerful poise of Quixote. It’s a role that demands charisma, range, and humility, and Delgado achieves all.
Amador’s performance as Manny/Sancho is the perfect compliment to Delgado’s Quixote. Manny agrees to tag along on a whim, fully aware of José’s condition, but gradually starts to be convinced by José’s delusion, fully accepting his new identity as Sancho. Eventually, Manny becomes José’s sole advocate and guardian when his fantasy is at risk of being broken too soon. Amador performs this role in a perfectly tuned way, balancing over-the-top humor with heartfelt compassion. At times he is exhausted and frustrated with the scenario he got himself into, but he realizes the importance of the quest he is on with José, delusion or not. As a comic-relief character, Manny could become grating if not played the right way, but Amador succeeds in making his character lovable and relatable.
Quixote Nuevo provides all the components for a refreshing take on the classic story and it will certainly leave audiences craving more. The performances were rich and entertaining, and the music and colorful visuals made the show memorable and awe-inspiring. This rendition of Quixote Nuevo is not to be missed, so head to Huntington Avenue Theater to watch it before it’s too late!