“Is that the real Don Quixote?” whispers one awe-struck, five-year-old boy sitting near me in the GALA Hispanic Theatre, as helmeted actor Roberto Colmenares, gallantly flaunting shield and lance, makes his first entrance down the right aisle.
The student is from a local Washington D.C. elementary school, LAMB PCS, (Latin American Montessori Bilingual Public Charter School). Colmenares, a GALA actor with genial, flamboyant charm, inhabits the role of Don Quijote of La Mancha, and gets it just right, in this world premiere, updated sequel.
Adapted by Patricia Suárez and Cornelia Cody, Nuevas Aventuras de Don Quijote focuses on new episodes, not included in the earlier staging: Los galeotes (The Galley Slaves), La Princesa Micomicona (The Princess Micomicona), and El caballero del bosque (The Knight of the Forest). But tilting at windmills sets the mock-heroic, surrealistic tone from the get-go.
If you remember, GALita’s 2013 (in May) staging of Don Quixote of La Mancha, adapted by the same creative team, Suárez and Cody, dealt with the legendary episode of Don Quixote attacking the windmill, he mistakes for a gigantic monster. In this sequel, the windmills are still a topic for satire. Tilting at windmills, as a phrase, has come to symbolize an act of chasing impossible dreams and attacking imaginary enemies. But it’s used here like variations on a theme.
What’s unique about this production is how director Cornelia Cody introduces the windmill scene through interactive participation with the kids in the audience. Actor Thais Menendez as Sabrina (Don Quixote’s niece) hands out pinwheels to the front row children, and asks them to twirl the blades by waving them in the air.
Roberto Colenares as Don Quixote spots them from the stage, and calls to arms Sancho Panza, (Omar Alexander Iraheta) “Preparémonos para batallarlos.” Quixote cries in Spanish, (We must prepare to do battle with them!), as drums roll from off-stage. As in the 2012 bilingual rendition, dialogue in Spanish alternates with passages in English. Chaos ensues. The kids react enthusiastically. And two actors on stage holding windmill blades knock Don Quixote flat to the ground, along with his crazy dream.
Scenic designer, Osbel Susman Peña’s clever set starts in a backyard setting, represented by a clothes line strung between two cardboard cutout trees. A fold-out screen is painted with wandering paths going nowhere, like Don Quixote’s quests, and spidery-armed windmills, as children might draw them.
Lucrecia Basualdo as the Don’s housekeeper Ama, and Menendez as his niece, Sobrina, who is obsessed with finding a husband, are putting out the laundry to dry. Colmenares as Don Quixote mounts the stage with mock grandeur. He is the same middle-aged, mad Spanish gentleman, so steeped in romances from the Middle Ages, he runs from reality into the surreal. He dreams he is a knight in shining armor, best-translated as a superhero, who chases impossible fantasies of heroic deeds. He is madly infatuated with his ladylove, Dulcinea, and wants to impress her by rescuing orphans and other victims of injustice. Not one, except Sancho Panza and his niece, Sabrina, who hopes for a husband, want to go along with his wild dreams.
Mick Thomas is Quixote’s steed, Rocinante, the delightful, spiffy, tireless horse, with wild, black-and-white hair that stands up on end with excitement, as he gallops in and out, back and forth. Rocinante seems to embody the absurdity of pointless adventures. The kids loved him, as indicated in the post-show discussion, asking the actor how he made the whinny sound.
Sancho Panza, again recreated by the seasoned actor, Omar Alexander Iraheta (who played Sancho in the earlier 2012 version), loves to tipple sweet wine and gorge himself with roasted pheasant at home. Yet, he is lured by Don Quixote’s promise to make him governor of an island, and joins the quest. Nothing wrong with the very American idea of pursuing dreams for a better life. The problem is Quixote’s idealism is absurd, out of contact with reality. His good intentions have unintended consequences, an idea made concrete in the Los galeotes (The Galley Slaves).
Enter the chain gang of galley slaves (actors Lucrecia Basualdo, as Galley Slave 1, and José Antonio Gonzalez Alva). They descend the right aisle, singing the sad dirge, about having no soul. “Alma Que Ociosa Te Sientas.” After the slaves proclaim their innocence and describe their wrongful punishment, Don Quijote, who believes they were “prisoners of love,” sets them free. A big blunder. The galley slaves indeed have no soul, as their entrance song indicated. They betray Don Quijote by physically attacking him. It’s an ironic twist: Good deeds lead to unexpected consequences and chaos. Bilingual passages help keep the narrative clear for non-English speakers. Sobrina explains in English that all Quixote wanted was to tell a tale of heroism to his ladylove. Instead, the evil slaves “….repay him with a push and shove.”
The Fishing Boat episode is also successful and wonderfully funny, staged with a blue ribbon that ripples across the stage. Don Quixote believes he must rescue an unjustly imprisoned knight. He, Sancho Panza and the horse, Rocinante rock back and forth in a flimsy fishing boat until it capsizes. The three almost drown.
When the boat crashes against the shore, actor José Antonio Gonzalez Alva, who plays the Fisherman, runs down the left aisle and pantomimes saving them by dragging them to shore. Meanwhile, Sobrina, who continues to hope that one of Don Quixote’s adventures “….may bring me marriage,” sees the Fisherman as a possible match. “He earns a living!/I could be his catch!” Here the bilingual Spanish and English exchange works and the narrative is clear.
New Adventures of Don Quixote
Part of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival
October 20 – November 1
GALA Hispanic Theatre
3333 14th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20010
1 hour, 10 minutes with no intermission
Details and Tickets
But La princesa Micomicona (the Princess Micomicona) episode is not as successful, even though dynamic Lucrecia Basualdo, with her expressive face, impersonates the princess who wants to marry Don Quixote. There are no English surtitles provided because this is a children’s show targeted for a bilingual audience. Yet the characters need to speak more of their dialogue in English to make the tangled intrigues and narrative completely clear. Some adults, who understand English only, may find the language barrier frustrating. So it helps to know the plot and stay glued to the director’s helpful program notes. That’s the play’s only drawback.
The final adventure, that rises to a climactic dual and pits Don Quixote against The Knight of the Forest/El Caballero del bosque, was an audience favorite. The Knight of the White Moon, (José Antonio Gonzalez Alva,) challenges the Don to a dual. If defeated Don Quixote must swear to go home and stay there for a year. Drum accompaniment adds to the excitement.
Is there a moral to this story? It could be a refrain repeated throughout this play. “Stay home.” Appearances are deceiving and heroic adventures are absurd. All that glitters is not gold. What makes the idealistic, innocent knight dangerous? People close to him fall under his spell and nobody ends up helped or rescued, often, they are worse off. As for the world and the adventures of exploring? Find strength and enjoyment in imagination and in your family.
Bilingual play with no English surtitles, for the general public as well as Washington D.C. public school students. Two more general public performances, for children and adults, are scheduled this weekend: Saturday, October 31, and Sunday, November 1, at 3:00 P.M.
New Adventures of Don Quixote by Patricia Suárez and Cornelia Cody . Based on the novel by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra . Directed by Cornelia Cody. Featuring Roberto Colmenares, Mick Thomas, José Antonio Gonzalez Alva, Thais Menendez, Lucrecia Basualdo, and Omar Alexander Iraheta . Osbel Susman-Peña, Scenic Design . Christopher Annas-Lee, Light Design . Alicia Tessari, Costume and properties Design . Roberto Colmenares, Fight Choreographer . Tsaitami Duchicela, Stage Manager . Reuben Rosenthal, Technical Director . Artemis López, Production Manager . Hugo Medrano, Producer for GALA Hispanic Theatre . Reviewed by Rosalind Lacy.