‘Quixote’ at Writers Theatre asks, is there still a place for the good … – Chicago Tribune
Is Miguel de Cervantes’ “Don Quixote” the most important novel ever written? Probably. Dostoevsky and Harold Bloom both thought so. No “Don Quixote,” no Dickens. Maybe no Netflix, given all that Cervantes did for the arc of dramatic characters, as we have come to know and love them.
Arguably, the modern Spanish language as you perchance speak it now is similarly in the great man of the 17th century’s debt.
You can debate all that, but what for me is without doubt is that “Don Quixote,” born in the parody of chivalric romance and critical of delusions of grandeur (yup, those are still around), is the warmest and most humane novel ever written.
There is inherent tolerance and inclusivity in the celebration of the quixotic, don’t you think?
Would you not agree that any day you feel disinclined to tilt at windmills because the events of the world have sat so heavily on your soul is not a good day?
For what else do we live but for the right to be free to live our quixotic deliriums? As long as they don’t harm others.
Those ideas might course through your mind as you watch “Quixote: On the Conquest of Self,” the fascinating new project at the Writers Theatre in Glencoe. The piece, which is penned by Monica Hoth and Claudio Valdes Kuri and has not been seen in the United States before, remains very much a messy work in progress that still has at least one important lesson to glean from Cervantes: that without narrative tension, the consumer gets quickly restless.
But “Quixote: On the Conquest of Self” is an audacious and ambitious little performance that would intrigue any student of the Spanish literary diaspora, and might well touch you greatly, as it did me. At times.
If you know “Don Quixote” (or have at least seen “Man of La Mancha”), you’ll know that Cervantes was very much the meta, story-within-the-story kind of writer, the kind who actively involved the reader in the formulation of narrative. That’s a main cue for this anachronistic riff, which stars Henry Godinez as the man himself but includes a variety of scheduled and unscheduled interactions with members of the audience including, on the night I was there, a woman in the seats named Emma Ladji, who proved to be quite the expert on the text and what it makes us all feel.
There was discussion of her love for Harry Potter.
“Are his exploits as grand as mine?” wondered Quixote.
Godinez is kitted out in metallic, timeless knight-trashheap attire that includes beer caps, bent license plates and other detritus. Despite clearly being directed by Valdes Kuri to perform with some flourishing stylistic remove (why is not clear; simple knightly honesty would better suffice), Godinez still has all the warmth and optimism you need for this role. You intuit he cares.
More than anything, the show seems to want to ask what Don Quixote means today. How do you connect him (and Cervantes) to the modern world, especially to all that confronts those born in the Spanish-speaking nations of the Americas? It’s a great idea (Valdes Kuri is based in Mexico), and you get many glimpses of what this could be.
But the stakes need to be higher, which means that the show will have to explore the question of what the cost of this appearance is to Don Quixote himself.
Has he removed himself from the 17th century with impunity as well as confusion? Does telling the story across the ages ask anything of the teller? Does the optimistic dreamer ever plunge into depression, especially when spying what happened to the impossible dream, currently deferred?
That might give the piece the jolt of immediacy and sharpening of contrasts it so badly needs — and ignite theatrically a very rich 90 minutes of connective ideas.
Chris Jones is a Tribune critic.
Review: “Quixote: On the Conquest of Self” (2.5 stars)
When: Through Dec. 17
Where: Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe
Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes
Tickets: $35-$80 at 847-242-6000 and www.writerstheatre.org