In “Quixote Nuevo,” by Octavio Solis, kooky characters from an elderly man’s fever dreams dance across the stage throughout, taking the edge off the production’s underlying themes: Regret over a lost love, aging, death and immigration.
Co-produced with theatres in Connecticut and Boston and directed by Austin-based KJ Sanchez, “Quixote Nuevo” runs through Feb. 9 at Houston’s Alley Theatre. Audiences will enjoy the modern adaptation of Cervantes’ 17th century fiction, “Don Quixote,” set in a modern-day Texas border town, and featuring an all-Latino cast.
Emilio Delgado (former Sesame Street cast member Luis) is Jose Quijano/Don Quixote, an aging professor obsessed with Cervante’s stories, increasingly engages with the whimsical spirits of his imagination. The spirits are always accompanied by a macho, leather-pants-wearing version of the Grim Reaper, and lots of great Tejano music.
Jose Quijano’s mental light is fading, and caring for him has become too much for his sister (Gianna Digregorio Rivera). She calls in a priest and a therapist to help have him admitted to an assisted living center.
Quijano has other ideas. He sets out upon a journey fueled by unresolved regrets, dressed in garage sale cast-offs instead of a knight’s armor. The caballero mounts a beat-up three-wheel tricycle instead of the old horse in Cervante’s novel. He soon takes up with his sidekick, Manny (Juan Manuel Amador), a paleta vendor riding a bicycle cart adorned by a picture of a donkey.
The two of them head out into the desert, nearly taking down the Border Patrol and engaging with the last surviving member of an immigrant family attempting to cross the border illegally. They revisit Quijano’s youthful love affair with a migrant worker. The two of them drop in at a cantina.
Throughout, a dignified and resolute Jose Quijano delivers touching commentaries on some of life’s biggest questions, even with a bedpan perched on his head and a trash can lid strapped to his chest.
Manny’s hilarity as knockabout Sancho Panza is entertaining, and his devotion to the would-be Caballero he comes to believe in heart-rending.
Quijano battles tormentors, real and imagined, while well-meaning friends and family frantically search for the two adventurers. Most of the ensemble is double cast to represent characters in both the reality and fantasy worlds.
This seems particularly appropriate, living as we do in a world where the lines between right and wrong are so often blurred. You won’t necessarily see both sides of every issue in this multi-layered production, but you’ll laugh a lot and see enough to make you think. That, alone, makes it worth a trip to the theatre.
Cover: Emilio Delgado in Quixote Nuevo. Photo Charles T. Erickson