Review: Don Quixote – struggles to find its soul

A comic re-telling of the classic Cervantes tale, the Arts Club / Centaur Theatre / Axis Theatre Company production of Don Quixote is an ambitious project that struggled to find the soul of its source material and at times failed to honour this epic tale.

Having become so obsessed with reading books of chivalry and knights, Alonso Quixano (Peter Anderson) appears to go mad and sets off for adventure, taking on the persona of knight-errant Don Quixote de la Mancha. In the first act, playwrights Colin Heath and Peter Anderson give us all of the iconic Quixote tales as he is knighted by an innkeeper, fights windmills that he thinks to be giants and pines after his true love Dulcinea. Where most stories of Don Quixote might end there, Heath and Anderson have chosen to incorporate the perhaps lesser known part two of the Quixote saga. Here Quixote and his squire Sancho Panza (Michel Perron) have become famous from their exploits in part one. With a book published of their adventures, Quixano’s delusions become even greater as he mistakes the cruel jokes of wealthy patrons as admiration instead of derision. Quixano eventually returns to his home to die along with his dreams.

As with Axis Theatre Company’s famous cousin, The Number 14, the actors wear masks throughout the show. But where they worked so effectively in The Number 14, as the masks were changed up constantly, they become a hindrance here.  As actors wear the same mask throughout the show, the actors are forced to work so hard to overcome the fact their faces, usually their eyes, are covered by their mask that they were unable to effectively convey the emotions of their character.

Peter Anderson in Don Quixote. Photo by David Cooper.
Peter Anderson in Don Quixote. Photo by David Cooper.

At times I found the humour to be quite juvenile and unsophisticated. While the original Cervantes tale is farcical, the farce was never allowed to wallow in fart jokes or prostitutes with crabs. As one specific example, an attempt to be clever by creating a moat from dog pee simply fell flat, feeling both uncomfortable and inappropriate.

David Roberts’ set was nicely done making us feel as if we were trapped inside the pages of Quixano’s books alongside him, and the windmill scene had a wonderful perspective to it that also allowed Peter Anderson to show off his ample physical comedy skills.

Gerald King’s lighting design had some remarkable moments, especially in the use of deep orange hues as Quixote and Sancho set off on their adventures.  Sheila White once again does a great job with costuming, providing the drab and tattered beige of the common folk and the wonderfully tarnished armour worn by Quixote.

In the end though I never quite got the melancholy, the underlying soul and endearing idealism that the source material so generously gives. And while the final fifteen minutes captured the essence of Cervante’s story in a heartfelt and poignant way, the journey, much like Don Quixote’s own, never quite rings true.

3 Out of 5 Stars Don Quixote
Arts Club Granville Island Stage, Granville Island
23 September – 23 October 2010

Tickets are available online or by calling 604.687.1644.

Tickets are available online or by calling 604.687.1644.
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