It’s 1605 and Spain needs a noble knight. The retired country squire, Don Quixote, stuffed to the gills with chivalric novels, decides he is the man to bring gentility back. Donning a helmet and armor fashioned from a barber’s basin, he sets off on his skinny nag on an adventurous quest.
Synetic’s version of the romantically deluded Don Quixote (Dan Istrate,) adapted by writer Roland Reed and directed by Paata Tsikurishvili, is probably not the answer to a cynical and indifferent age. A rare misstep for this prodigiously talented company, Don Quixote does little to illuminate Miguel de Cervantes’ Golden Age classic and makes its hero a ridiculous figure, almost a marionette seemingly manipulated by his tenuous grip on reality.
As Quixote, Dan Istate’s bandy-legged stance and tottering Captain Jack Sparrow walk baffles, as does his perpetually frozen expression of disorientation. He speaks robotically and with pauses drawn out long enough you could hang washing between lines of dialogue. All of this is disjointed and off-putting to the point where you would not want to follow Don Quixote to the back of the theater, much less across the Spanish countryside.
Most of the cast adapts the same oddball speech patterns, which makes it seem like everyone in La Mancha is completely loco. Why would they treat Don Quixote with derision if they are all nut cases themselves? This hapless state of affairs is enhanced by costumes by Georgi Alexi-Meskhishvili that dimly recall the Tim Burton movies “Edward Scissorhands” and “Alice in Wonderland”—all white faces, black lips, fright wigs of every hue, tight corsets and shiny, punk rock-inspired clothes.
There’s even a heavy metal punk royal court where Don Quixote and sidekick Sancho Panza (Ryan Sellers) are mocked and reviled—a sequence that comes so far out of left field you blink for a second and wonder if this has turned into some crazy mash-up of Cervantes and Rocky Horror Picture Show.
The bizarre visual gimmickry cheapens the story of Don Quixote, who is a comic figure with a lovely, tattered sense of nobility and old-fashioned decorum. The dilution of the tale’s power is furthered by the lack of emotional depth in any of the characters. Don Quixote appears to be sleep-walking through his adventures, and you have no clue as to why Sancho Panza chooses to be his squire, since all he does is get beat up repeatedly. Similarly, when Don Quixote chooses the pig-farmer’s daughter (Natalie Berk) to be his lady fair, the character bears no trace of being affected in any way by Don Quixote’s elevated worship of her.
The dancing is spirited and full-bore, but even that cannot raise Synetic’s production of Don Quixote beyond the level of a labored curiosity.
Written by Roland Reed from the original novel by Miguel de Cervantes
Directed by Paata Tsikurishvili
Produced by Synetic Theater
Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard
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