Be Old Until You Are Young: “Quixote Nuevo”

Presented by the Huntington Theatre Company in association with Hartford Stage and Alley Theatre
A reimagining of Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
By Octavio Solis
Directed by KJ Sanchez
Compositions and sound design by David R. Molina
Other compositions by Eduardo Robledo
Music direction by Jesse Sanchez
Fight direction by Ted Hewlett
Vocal and dialect coaching by Robert Ramirez
Dramaturgy by J. Sebastián Alberdi

Nov. 15 – Dec. 8, 2019
HUNTINGTON AVENUE THEATRE, 264 HUNTINGTON AVENUE
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Critique by Kitty Drexel

(Boston, MA) It’s only three days until Thanksgiving! So let me take this opportunity to remind you, dearest reader, that the very land you stand on was stolen by colonizers from Native American tribes. Quixote Nuevo takes place on the Mexican-American border. The US is currently keeping the children of immigrants in cages at that border. Their parents aren’t much better off. When you see this production, and you should because it is excellent, please consider the role colonizers and their progeny (us) have played in putting the land’s indigenous peoples behind bars.

Quixote Nuevo is a retelling of Cervantes’ Don Quixote. It is told in contemporary La Plancha, Texas with Mexican-American characters. It’s central character Jose Quijano (Emilio Delgado, who radiates charm and playful enthusiasm) is to be moved to assisted living because his family can no longer care for him properly. Quijano believes he is living Quixote’s tale when, in our reality, he is wandering the desert without food, water or shelter. He seeks his Dulcinea (Gisela Chipe) with his trusty squire Sancho Panza (Juan Manuel Amador) at his side. He is met by Papa Calaca (Hugo E. Carbajal), the embodiment of the afterlife, at each twist and turn. This production is a strikingly colorful story of elder wandering and immigration abuse wrapped in a musical comedy’s skin.

The design work, from Brian J. Lilienthal’s brilliant sunsets to Rachel Anne Healy’s flashy costuming speaks hearty beauty to the viewer. Quijano’s trek across the La Plancha desert looks like it was taken from a dystopian thriller. The play could be retitled, “Mad Max: Journey to Dulcinea,” for its armor made of found objects and props repurposed from junkyards.

There’s a sheep scene in which Healy’s work is particularly inventive. Without giving anything away, the ensemble plays a crowd of sheep that our hero mistakes for dragons. They are wrapped in vaguely-sheep shaped, balloon-like costumes that cover their arms and head. There is a hole for the legs so an actor may still move about the set. As Quijano ran about the stage attacking them, the actors responded with appropriate animalistic quiescence.  We were rolling over with laughter!

The compositions of David R. Molina had my companion and I dancing in our seats. The songs and incidental music for the Papa Muerte/Calaca world are joyful. This beautiful music based on traditional border music wants you to move! And we did.

The dramaturgy work by J. Sebastián Alberdi is essential reading for an audience member who is new to Mexican-American culture. Alberdi’s brief but educational interview with playwright Solis enables the reader to better understand Quixote Nuevo from a contemporary perspective. Alberdi’s interview with composer David R. Molina reveals to the reader the many layers of the production’s sound design. The Spanish/English glossary of terms with an explanatory quote from Solis is a necessary assist to American monolinguists.

Migrant works picked the vegetables in your Thanksgiving meal. Or, they could have. Maybe they weren’t allowed across the border due to our president’s pointlessly hostile immigration practices. As we eat together this holiday (and gird our loins for the rest of the season), please consider Quixote Nuevo and the US’s treatment of immigrants seeking a better life within our borders. We have no idea what kind of journey others are undertaking.

Quixote Nuevo spent a month this year at the Hartford Stage from September 19 – October 13. It’s there that the actors perfected it for Boston. It is now playing at the Huntington Theatre Company. Audiences who had the great fortune to enjoy New Rep’s 2017 production of Man of La Mancha will surely love this retelling of Cervantes’ epic.  

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