We are the authors of our own lives, mostly figuratively, but exceedingly literally in Writers Theatre’s energetic production of Mónica Hoth and Claudio Valdés Kuri’s Quixote: On the Conquest of Self, translated into English by Georgina Escobar and based on the classic novels written by Miguel de Cervantes in 1605 and 1615.
As the titular character, Henry Godinez actually spills out of his book, legs akimbo, from a full page on to an empty stage, clad in cool-looking (but sweat-inducing) leather armor reinforced with metal beer cans, bottle tops and license plate pieces (designed by Sanja Manakoski).
With direct audience address and interaction, he first asks if the audience has read his tale, “obligatory to your schooling,” or “at least Googled me.” Quixote then spends much of the play lamenting being beholden to his narrative, and, while retelling some of the books’ highlights, like his love of the fantasy female Dulcinea (“I do not know what I possess that maidens fall in love with me”), and attempting to break out of his prison of prose.
He also respects his source material – 126 chapters over two books so famous they’ve been reprinted almost as much as the Bible, and even more than Harry Potter, he beams.
The result is engaging. Kuri also directs and has Godinez filling the space with physical contact improv (Sylvia Hernandez-DiStasi as acrobatic adviser with choreographer Bill Siegenfeld), verbally and bodily jousting with Cervantes for “it appears the author is my enemy.”
Other author/puppet masters and their works are invoked too, including The Little Mermaid and The Little Prince (diminution is a theme here), One Hundred Years of Solitude (also echoed by Quixote, although 400 years in his case), and, of course, Metamorphosis as our knight errant struggles to emerge from his protagonist cocoon into a real, three-dimensional self-actualized man.
It’s a bit on-the-nose, feels evocative of Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author, and the bromides are obvious while still apt, like “only those who never try, fail.”
But the end result of the 90-minute tour-de-force is topical: fight existing strictures to write your own stories, no matter what is set in stone, or ink or time. As Parliament Funkadelic says, “Here’s a chance to dance our way out of our constrictions.”
Quixote: On the Conquest of Self runs through December 17, at Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe. Shows are Tuesdays-Fridays at 7:30pm, and Sundays at 2 and 6pm, with select Wednesday 3pm matinees. Tickets are $35-$80, available online or by calling 847-242-6000.