Dreams of Hollywood stardom drive the action in
|Dreams of Hollywood stardom drive the action in
this modern-day version of Don Quixote. Photo:
Transforming a classic like Don Quixote into a fresh, modern work for the theater is an ambitious task, but the Compagnie Irina Brook has pulled it off with great success. Somewhere… La Mancha takes the essence of Don Quixote and transforms it into an American road movie packed with entertaining episodes, using the desire for success in show business to drive to the action, without losing any of the idealism of the original text. Many of the scrapes the principal characters get into have been updated to great comic effect by director Irina Brook, the daughter of Paris-based director Peter Brook and his wife, the actress Natasha Parry.
References to 17th-century Spain in this production include bits of flamenco dancing, but the story starts off with some modern-day social realism on the streets of New York, where down-and-out Donald Q decides to help his equally hard-up friend Sancho get to California and realize his dream of making it in Hollywood. Sancho is a wannabe Shakespearean actor who, to his own frustration, can never remember his lines and only gets roles as an extra.
The pair take with them on their journey a shopping trolley full of junk – including a kitsch painting of President Obama that stares out as a symbol of hope – and the “trusty steed” Rocinante, in this production a red carry-on suitcase on wheels. They of course endure a string of mishaps along their way, many of which have their roots in the original text. The famous tilting at windmills scene here becomes tilting at pump jacks drilling for oil, which Donald Q takes to be the “giants” he has to slay with his sword (a fishing rod from the trolley) to prove his chivalry and win the hand of fair Dulcinea, whom, as in the original text, we never see.
The variety of events keeps the play ticking along, with plenty of comic relief: in the gags (“How about some Shakespeare?” “Sheikh who?”), in the story itself (e.g., Donald Q’s ordination into the “Knights of Route 66” by the drunks in Tin Can Alley), and in the way the original story has been updated (the herbal panacea that Don Quixote believes cures all wounds in Cervantes’s novel has now become a joint inducing amusing hallucinations – Sancho’s Oscar-winning speech and Donald Q’s vision of Dorothy and her friends skipping by on the Yellow Brick Road). French is the main language of the text, but it is peppered with U.S. English, particularly the expletives.
The emotional draw of the play emerges only slowly, as the friendship between Donald Q and Sancho develops, and we start to appreciate their needs and longings. The audience begins to empathize rather than just laugh at them, nicely setting up a heartbreaker of an ending.
The open stage is quickly adapted with props to illustrate events, while varying shades of blue on a screen in the back indicate the weather and time of day.
The all-round success of the production can be credited mostly to the very strong cast of six international actors, four of whom play a multitude of roles. Augustin Ruhabura, born in Rwanda, is a suitably intense Donald Q, though special mention ought to go to his sidekick, Egyptian-born Gérald Papasian, who gives his all in the clown-like role of Sancho and is well deserving of the four ovations the play received. Among the supporting cast, Bartlomiej Soroczynski showed himself to be a multi-talented entertainer to watch out for.
Somewhere… La Mancha had improvised beginnings, but the final version has lost none of the freshness of the initial input. This is an experiment with a classic that works.
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