Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires
The source material is drawn from Cervantes' "Don Quixote." The new play premiered at California Shakespeare Theater in 2018. It was created by writer Octavio Solis. In the current production, KJ Sanchez directs, mixes comedy, drama and music. David R. Molina's musical compositions are up-tempo, lovely and spirited. Jesse Sanchez is music director.
The show is set in the present day in the fictional town of La Plancha, Texas, on the border between Mexico and the United States. Yes, this is topically insightful and it is impossible to watch the performance without thinking of the current predicament.
Truly starring throughout and galvanic for each of his moments is Emilio Delgado as Jose Quijano. Delgado played the character of Luis on "Sesame Street" for more than four decades and has also been involved in the process of sculpting Quixote Nuevo. Quijano is a man who was a longtime college professor and one who loved books. Now, however, he shows signs of dementia and those who know him are truly concerned. While vaccinating between fantasy and reality, he consistently lights up the stage as his zeal and enthusiasm become transcendent.
Quijano cares for people who haven't any money, and he thinks he actually is Don Quixote from Cervantes' fiction. The former teacher leaves his home seeking Dulcinea, whom he loves. After a while, he meets a neighbor named Manny Diaz (Juan Manuel Amador). Quijano imagines Manny to be Sancho Panza. Manny tries to explain that he is not actually Sancho but eventually goes along with Quixote on many an adventure or misadventure. Manny initially rejects the role of best buddy/assistant but, like everyone else, is drawn to the wandering elder.
Quijano rides a delightful tricycle around the stage as he seeks to rectify difficulties facing people he knows or encounters. His sister Magdalena (Mariela Lopez-Ponce) and her daughter Antonia (Gianna DiGregorio Rivera) attempt to keep the man close to home, but this does not work. Instead, he hopes to better the lives of those who haven't insurance or work or proper documentation. The character hasn't all of his former faculties, but he still strives for social justice.
The show is not heavy-handed. It is delectable theater and artistically striking. Set designer Takeshi Kata and lighting designer Brian J. Lilienthal combine to give us a picture of the border countryside, complete, during the second act, with arching rock-like cliffs. Costumer Rachel Healy supplies brightly innovative outfits for the actors.
Director Sanchez pulls all of this together as her production forges ahead. She also includes much movement, from time to time, and this serves to energize even further.
One could spend a lot of the two and one half hour running time focusing on Emilio Delgado as he embodies Quijano/Quixote. The actor formulates a character of depth and it is certainly possible to discern that this once erudite man retains, despite his condition, both compassion and desire. He is not the person he was but moves along eagerly and with drive, and he will not consider relocating to an assisted living situation. Delgado's is a bravura performance. Fortunately, fellow cast members are both skilled and spirited as well.
Melia Bensussen is now the artistic director for Hartford Stage. She sets a very high bar with such an ardent, creative, and relevant first show.
Quixote Nuevo runs through October 13, 2019, at Hartford Stage, 50 Church St., Hartford CT. For tickets, call 860-527-5151 or visit www.hartfordstage.org.