Relatable and relevant ‘Quixote Nuevo’ at Cal Shakes

Emilio Delgado stars in Cal Shakes’ production of Quixote Nuevo, written by the noted playwright, Octavio Solis. Photo: KevinBerne/Cal Shakes

How many works of literature can you name that have given rise to a regularly used English adjective? Not many? Me neither. But the word, “quixotic,” defined as “foolishly impractical, especially in the pursuit of ideals; especially marked by rash lofty romantic ideas or extravagantly chivalrous action,” is based on Miguel de Cervantes’ 1605 Spanish classic, Don Quixote, as is California Shakespeare Theater’s world premiere production of Quixote Nuevo by noted playwright, Octavio Solis (Pastures of Heaven).

This contemporary Latino-flavored, Tejano music-filled, transformative version of the 413-year-old comic epic novel stars the talented and versatile Emilio Delgado (Luis of Sesame Street) as a dementia-afflicted retired literature professor living in the fictional modern-day La Plancha, a Texas border town. His family, worried about his competence, has made plans for him to move to the Fontainebleau senior center.

But before the professor capitulates to the move, he loses touch with reality and believes that he is Don Quixote, a medieval knight right out of one of his treasured novels. Wearing a homemade costume that includes a hubcap and parts of old cans, he disappears on a series of adventures to find his lost love, Dulcinea. The town ice cream vendor (paletero), out of concern for Quixote, agrees to act as Quixote’s squire and all-around sidekick, Sancho (an excellent Juan Amador).

While a few of their adventures are reminiscent of those in Cervantes’ epic, the original Don Quixote never faced a run-in with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (La Migra). In fact, the Mexican-Texas border, la frontera, and the heartbreak it can cause is central to the story, as follows from Octavio Solis’ original home of El Paso, Texas.


Emilio Delgado plays a retired professor who thinks he is Don Quixote in this new production by the California Shakespeare Theater production. Photo: Kevin Berne/Cal Shakes

Nationally known director, KJ Sanchez, keeps the action moving apace, although the first of the two acts was a bit long. Quixote Nuevo stars a terrific all-Latino supporting cast of mostly local actors, all in their Cal Shakes main stage debuts: Hugo E Carbajal, Gianna Di Gregorio Rivera, Michele Apriña Leavy, Amy Lizardo, Sarita Ocón, and Sol Castillo. The supporting actors all play multiple roles, with frequent costume changes making it easy to keep up with who’s who. The costumes, designed by Ulises Alcala, are colorful and creative, especially the pill bottles worn by the evil spirits. And while occasional words of the play are in Spanish and Spanish-accented English, the production is easy to understand and follow for all audiences (see page 24 of the program for a glossary of terms).

The third time is definitely the charm in playwright Octavio Solis’ three attempts to turn Don Quixote into a modern play. His first commission, a fairly straight adaptation of the novel was written for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2009. In his second version, for Shakespeare Dallas, he updated the language but did not change any of the storyline. Cal Shakes’ artistic director Eric Ting wanted this third adaptation to reflect Solis’ experiences as a Mexican-American living in the United States today. And Quixote Nuevo succeeds remarkably in turning Cervantes’ picaresque comedic epic into an extremely relatable, relevant and entertaining modern theatrical event while preserving the timeless tale of the errant knight.

 Quixote Nuevo is playing at the outdoor California Shakespeare Theatre in Orinda through July 7, 2018. Complimentary shuttle from Orinda BART begins two hours before curtain. Tickets: $20-$92. For information, extended dates and tickets, visit http://www.calshakes.org or telephone 510-548-9666.