Sunday, October 08, 2017

A Worthwhile Quest: At Writers Theatre, Henry Godinez Makes 'Quixote: On the Conquest of Self' a Rather Fun & Engaging Knight -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Quixote: On the Conquest of Self
by Mónica Hoth and Claudio Valdés Kuri
English translation by Georgina Escobar
Directed by Claudio Valdés Kuri
Writers Theatre, Glencoe, IL
Thru December 17

My appreciation of great literature being admittedly more theoretical than actionable, I have never read Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote, which was actually published in two early 17th century volumes.

I primarily know of the most widely read-about fictional character in history--a commoner who imagines himself a knight on a valiant quest--via the brilliant classic musical, Man of La Mancha.

As such I was intrigued by a recent, non-musicalized Quixotic stage work that originated in Mexico and is getting its Chicago area premiere a Glencoe's Writers Theater with acclaimed Mexican director Claudio Valdés Kuri at the helm.

Henry Godinez, an Resident Artistic Associate at Chicago's Goodman Theatre and an acclaimed director in his own right, stars here as Don Quixote, albeit one who is familiar with cell phones and--per one of the biggest laugh-inducing lines of a show that almost entirely breaks the fourth wall--the Writers Theatre's origins in a bookstore.

Photo credit on all: Michael Brosilow
Quixote: On the Conquest of Self also relies on considerable good-natured audience participation as our would-be hero bounces around chapters Cervantes wrote about him, acts out selected scenes and speaks to patrons within the intimate Gillian Theatre--the smaller of two spaces in Writers' glorious new home--with a combination of droll self-awareness and acerbic contemporary day observation.

With Godinez truly wonderful as he pretty much speaks for 95 straight minutes, this take on Quixote is among the more imaginative pieces of theater I've ever seen.

Which doesn't mean I loved it through and through, although I do recommend it to those who appreciate literature, the themes of Don Quixote and inventive, unique, rather humorous theater that ventures into the realm of performance art.

As per my @@@@ rating (out of 5), Godinez--working from a script by the director (who originally staged it in Mexico City) and Mónica Hoth, with English translation by Georgina Escobar--clearly does yeoman's work in keeping things moving.

And at the opening night performance, those he pulled from the audience played along so well I wondered if more than one was a plant.

But I can't deny getting to a point where I wished the show would end sooner than it did.

And while I applaud the notions Quixote: On the Conquest of Self puts forth about daring to dream, failing only if one doesn't try and the imaginative power of language--at one point our license plate and bottle cap clad Quixote shares that over 16,000 different words were used to tell his tale vs. the 300 most of us use with regularity today--I can't say I came to much better know & appreciate the source novel or found myself consistently riveted in a theatrical sense.

"The limits of language are the limits of mind," states Godinez at one point, and it is the charming verbosity and wonderment of his character--blending both classic and modern embodiments--that make the show work as well as it does.

Though there are also some things that happen onstage I best not reveal which add considerably to Quixote: On the Conquest of Self being not only an engaging, but heartwarming piece of theater.

A noble quest indeed.

With even a knowing wink to Man of La Mancha's wondrous "The Impossible Dream" thrown in for good measure.

It may be a tad unwieldy and ponderous at times, but overall this highly unique show and exemplary performance make for a rather enjoyable knight.

1 comment:

Ken said...

Unique Quixote play tilts at windmills.