When Round House Theatre Artistic Director Ryan Rilette planned the first show back since the pandemic, he decided to take a risk and go big and bold. On September 8, “Quixote Nuevo” kicked off the 2021-2022 season with an all-Latinx cast, led by director by Lisa Portes.
Running through October 3, this critically acclaimed show by playwright Octavio Solis reimagines Miguel de Cervantes’ “Don Quixote” in more modern times. Herbert Siguenza plays Jose Quijano (Don Quixote), a professor battling the onset of dementia whose fantasies come to life in a Texas-Mexico border town. Ernie González Jr. plays Manny Diaz, a Sancho Panza sidekick for Jose’s Don Quixote, and the two hark on a journey that finds them tilting at patrol drones instead of windmills.
Portes hopes the story sparks important and thoughtful conversation about immigration in Texas border towns, as well as important family issues with elder loved ones. The show is filled with lively Tejano music, bilingual wordplay and even puppetry.
“It’s an epic tale with nine actors playing about 20 roles, on a huge set that moves,” Portes says. “I wanted to get this show on the stage with all the life and humor that’s in the text. The last 18 months have been brutal, and being back on the stage I feel like I can breathe again.”
In the original “Don Quixote,” the main character is described as mad. But with Solis’ “Quixote Nuevo” the playwright explores Jose’s dementia, revealing another plane of consciousness where people exist.
“People have related to coping with dementia in their family, and the fact dementia might transcend aspects of our reality,” Portes says.
This wasn’t Portes’ first run at the show. Portes was one of the finalists for directing the premiere of the show at Cal Shakes in Berkeley, California, in 2018. Instead, the gig landed with her colleague KJ Sanchez.
“I was really excited about this project,” she says. “The show went on a three-theatre tour, all under Sanchez’s direction. When Round House wanted to produce it and called Octavio, he recommended me. I was thrilled.”
A number of things appealed to her about the show: It was based on the classic “Don Quixote,” a beloved text in the Latinx community; the epic scale of the story; the theatricality; and it was written by someone she considers a funny, inventive and poetic writer.
“I was like a kid in the candy store when I was reading the text,” Portes says. “I’m just thrilled to be able to helm it now.”
The cast includes Raúl Cardona, Jyline Carranza, Adelina Mitchell, Peter Pasco, Lawrence Redmond, Isabel Quintero and Sarita Ocón as Dr. Campus (this version of Don Quixote’s love, Dulcinea).
“These are the people I’ve been dying to work with,” Portes says. “Herbert Siguenza is a founding member of Culture Clash, a renowned satiric company. I’ve long admired him and he was the first person I thought of to play Jose Quijano.”
“This show is a blast,” Portes continues. “It tickles the fancy, the music for the show is haunting and exciting, the puppetry is unexpected, and the power of the performances will blow folks away.”
“Quixote Nuevo” runs through October 3 at Round House Theatre in Bethesda. Live and virtual tickets are available. For more information, visit roundhousetheatre.org
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