Quixote Nuevo Puts a New Texas-Based Spin on the Classic Cervantes Tale

Emilio Delgado in Quixote Nuevo.
Emilio Delgado in Quixote Nuevo. Photo by T. Charles Erickson

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Emilio Delgado in Quixote Nuevo.
Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Don Quixote is still setting off to look for his long lost love, Dulcinea. But this time he's not traveling across the plains of Spain but rather the Texas border lands. The man from La Mancha now has as his base the fictional Texas town of La Plancha. His periods of vagueness are now Alzheimer's. And the time has been moved from the 17th Century Cervantes wrote about to modern day.

In Quixote Nuevo, a creative re-imagining of the classic originally published in 1605, playwright Octavioj Solis uses his experience growing up in El Paso to inform the modern work which in an all too-timely view includes a look at the status of immigrants along our state's southern borders.  Actor Emilio Delgado, who played handyman Luis on Sesame Street for 44 years, stars as Quixote.

KJ Sanchez, who is recognized for directing adaptations of classics, new plays and her own documentary plays — and founded and is CEO of American Records focused on theater "that chronicles our time," is directing the musical which includes eight Tejano music numbers. She was also involved in the development of the play with Solis and in fact, says she has directed three iterations of the play. "I've been a fan of Octavio's work for a very long time."

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival first commissioned and produced Solis' play Don Quixote, she says, Then it was performed at Shakespeare Dallas and then Solis was asked by the artistic director of Cal Shakes, a regional; theater company in California, if he was willing to do some rewrites "to make it a little more personal in Octavio's writing and to find Octavio's unique voice in it."

"And Octavio was very interested in that because he wasn't quite settled in what he had done the first two iterations, And that's when I came along." Sanchez was hired to help him work on the developing version. "He rewrote so much of the play that it became a world premiere again. A new title. I would say there's about 7 percent of the old play in the new play," she says. The two, both of whom are directors and writers bounced ideas back and forth both ways throughout the process, she says. Two years ago, Quixote Nuevo premiered at Cal Shakes.

The Alley production is coming fresh off performances at Huntington Theatre Company in Boston and Hartford Stage in Connecticut in a co-production mounted by all three theaters, she says.

In it, Delgado plays Joe Quijano, a retired college professor who comes to believe he is Quixote, she says. "Now he has dementia; he's suffering from Alzheimer's, and in his demented state he believes he is Don Quixote. And instead of fighting the windmills as in the book, he fights a Border Patrol surveillance balloon that he thinks is a monster." But just like  the original Quixote,

Instead of riding Rocinante, his horse, Quixote rides an adult-sized  tricycle with a horse's skull mounted in front, Sanchez says. "Octavio has transposed many of the icons of the book into what he knows of Texas.  Sancho Panza is [one of ] the guys who drive the little ice cream carts."  Dulcinea is a young, immigrant farm worker who Quixote has lost track of, she says.

Audience members acquainted with the original will find a lot of Easter eggs in this adaptation, Sanchez says. But that's far from a requirement, she adds. This work stands on its own, she says. There are nine actors in the cast and seven of them play different roles.  Quixote is dogged by mariachi Calacas which are skeletal figures encouraging him to his death, which he declines, she says.

Some of the dialog is delivered in Spanish, but Sanchez says it's Spanish surrounded by English so thanks to the context she doesn't think non-Spanish speaking audience members will have any trouble keeping up with the plot. "It's also really funny and there's so much about being a Tejano that's baked into the play," she says.

It's a really compelling story of a man who is losing his way. He doesn't recognize his family. And so it works just as a story of a family taking care of their beloved uncle," Sanchez says. "The reason that he is obsessed with the book Don Quixote and wants to be Don Quixote is because he longs for a time of civility. He longs for a time where we protected the innocent, where we were kind to each other, when we saw the grace and the beauty in each other.

"The heart of Cervantes' book still rings true to us today." "

Performances are scheduled for January 17 through February 9 at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays and Sundays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sunday at Alley Theatre, 615 Texas. For information, call 713-220-5700 or visit $30-$91.
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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
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