By Colin Heath and Peter Anderson. Adapted from the novels by Miguel de Cervantes. Directed by Roy Surette. Coproduced by the Arts Club Theatre Company and Centaur Theatre Company in association with Axis Theatre. At the Arts Club’s Granville Island Stage on Wednesday, September 29. Continues until October 23
Watching Act 1, I wanted to like Don Quixote. By Act 2, I actually did.
In the opening scenes of Colin Heath and Peter Anderson’s stage adaptation of the two books by Miguel de Cervantes, we meet the aging Alonso Quixano and learn that his obsession with novels of chivalry has tipped him into the insane belief that he is a knight-errant. He slaps on an old suit of armour, renames himself Don Quixote, asks his simple-minded neighbour Sancho Panza to be his squire, and sets off on his skinny horse to find adventure.
His initial encounters are episodic—they’re not held together by a clear conflict—and if you’re not keen on parodies of chivalric literature, they’ll be largely meaningless. Don Quixote attacks a field of windmills, thinking they’re giants, and he mistakes a flock of sheep for an army, but what’s the point?
It’s not until late in Act 1, when Don Quixote and Sancho Panza run into a funeral procession of shepherds, that this production comes into focus. The deceased killed himself because the woman he loved rejected him, and all of the mourners are hopelessly smitten with the same femme fatale; they sing her name in lovesick harmonies. Partly thanks to composer Robert Buckley’s music, the production suddenly acquires melancholy weight. And the delusions of Don Quixote, who is himself searching for his fantasized paramour, Dulcinea, are illuminated by the specificity of personal romance: the pain of loneliness has driven him to will another, more beautiful reality into existence. For the remainder of Act 1 and the duration of Act 2, the dialectic between truth and illusion is touchingly explored.
Everybody in the cast pours their heart into the material. Cowriter and lanky comic Anderson could have been born to play the title role. Here, he uses physical skills—he dances an achingly disjointed flamenco, choreographed by Karen Pitkethly—to full effect. Michel Perron’s Sancho Panza is an earthily grounded clown. Multiply cast, Sasa Brown is fearless. And Montreal performer Glenda Braganza displays excellent comic chops in a number of roles, including the tease who drives the shepherds crazy.
David Roberts’s storybook set—complete with giant windmills—is a stunner, and so are his props, including the many variations on toy horses that Don Quixote rides. Melody Anderson’s scores of masks are pure genius. And both Sheila White’s costumes and Gerald King’s lighting are lavishly gorgeous. Director Roy Surette is the guy who pulled it all together.
You have to wait for it, but Don Quixote delivers.