Often considered the first modern novel, Miguel de Cervantes’ 1605 Spanish classic, “Don Quixote,” is a picaresque comedic epic in which a deluded old man who’s read way too many chivalric romances suddenly believes himself to be a medieval knight — and sets out on one mishap-plagued adventure after another.
The world premiere “Quixote Nuevo” that opens California Shakespeare Theater’s season has had an epic journey of its own.
This is actually the third time that playwright Octavio Solis has adapted “Quixote.” A longtime San Franciscan who now lives in Oregon (and who adapted John Steinbeck’s “The Pastures of Heaven” for Cal Shakes in 2010), Solis was first commissioned to adapt the novel for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2009.
“I did a straight-up adaptation, a costume drama that they did in the outdoor theater,” Solis says. “I think we had 26 actors onstage, 32 puppets, something like that. It was massive. But they asked me to think big, and so I did. And it was fun, it sold well, audiences loved it, and then I shelved it. I said I think I’m done with that.”
Not so fast. Just when you think you’re out, they pull you back in.
“Shakespeare Dallas had been looking for an adaptation,” Solis recalls. “They got hold of mine and said they wanted to do that. But they said, ‘Can you Texas-ize it? Can you update it, set it in Texas, make it more relevant to the people here, put a lot more Spanish in it?’ I did, and I didn’t change any of the storyline. I just updated the language. The premise of it was Cervantes thinking, what if my character could live in today’s world? That was an interesting conceit, but it still seemed elusive to me. It did OK, but I wasn’t very pleased with it. And then I really thought that’s it, I’m done.”
That’s when Cal Shakes’ new artistic director came calling.
“Eric Ting called and said, ‘You have a “Don Quixote” that really appeals to me, and I think your updating is working well, but I want you to interrogate those choices a little deeper and really, really make the work yours. Really think about wresting the book from the clutches of Cervantes and Spain and let it speak to you as a Mexican-American in this country with what we’re dealing with today.’
“I thought about that and said OK, I’ll do that. So I feel like the first production took me to Spain, the second production took me to Texas and the third production, this one, has brought me home. It feels like I’m representing myself and my concerns expressed through the story of Don Quixote.”
“Quixote Nuevo” depicts a dementia-plagued senior citizen adrift in a Texas border town today. It boasts an all-Latino cast of nine mostly local actors, all in their Cal Shakes main stage debuts (Amy Lizardo and Sarita Ocón have been in touring productions). Starring as Quixote is Emilio Delgado, best known for playing Luis on “Sesame Street” for 44 years.
“It’s completely reinvented,” Solis says. “I would say there’s probably 2 percent of the original text from the OSF production.”
So what is it about this story and this character that’s provided such an inexhaustible source of inspiration for so many over the last 400 years?
“It really expresses the tension between idealism and madness,” Solis says. “He pursues these ideals and adventures for something that is really kind of noble, but he’s the least capable man of executing those things. And he more often than not gets himself hurt or hurts others. He’s a dangerous person. It’s like a homeless person pretending he’s Spider-Man and going out to fight crime with a crowbar.
“But his heart is in the right place, even if his brain isn’t.”
By Octavio Solis, based on the novel by Miguel de Cervantes, presented by California Shakespeare Theater
Through: July 1
Where: Bruns Amphitheater, 100 California Shakespeare Theater Way, Orinda
Tickets: $20-$92; 510-548-9666, www.calshakes.org
Contact Sam Hurwitt at email@example.com, and follow him at Twitter.com/shurwitt.
Source: East Bay It’s a knight on the border in ‘Quixote Nuevo’ at Cal Shakes