Conceived and Directed by Blake Montgomery
Original songs by Pamela Maurer
Developed and Performed by Gabriel Franken, Michael Hamilton, Chelsea Keenan, Kate Suffern, Anne Walaszek, and Nathan Wonder
This unconventional take on Cervantes’s classic is well-conceived and surprisingly poignant.
If The Building Stage’s current production of Dawn, Quixote feels undergirded by a pervasive—even wistful—sadness, it’s not hard to understand why. For following the show’s completed run on April 27th, The Building Stage will be shuttering its doors for good. Thankfully founder and artistic director Blake Montgomery’s recent adaptation of Cervantes’s classic is a final act truly worthy of remembrance.
As much indebted to the influences of Beckett and Pirandello as Cervantes, this wryly funny and metatheatrical take on the familiar tale of knightly errancy derives immense pleasure in all things digressive, regressive, circular and, in general, playful. None of the six bearded figures onstage, for example, actually acknowledge themselves to be Don Quixote, who is referred to throughout only as “the aforementioned gentleman.” Rather, each takes a turn “acting out” Quixote’s part in stories now all-too-familiar to us: the infamous charge on the windmill, his love for the illusory Dulcinea, the accompaniment of his faithful Sancho Panza or his faithful steed Rocinante. But in Montgomery and Co.’s sophisticated adaptation, such stories are secondary both to the ways in which they are told and to the reasons why we continue telling them.
For in truth, no story in this madcap production is told only once. Each loosely ordered vignette here drawn from Quixote’s life is subject to an endless litany of revisions and redos, its six narrators collectively proceeding by way of prolonged trial and error, always wanting to get the line just right, to capture the mood just so, to perfectly convey the significance of the moment. Whether they’re stopping each other mid-sentence to proffer up new emendations to the story or racing at hyper-speed through 800 pages of the original source material, trying to keep abreast of what’s technically happening in Dawn, Quixote is a mistake. For the story is as errantly wandering as its central knight, and for all the ways in which Dawn, Quixote fails conventionally, it is at least smart enough to know that conventional failures are their own kind of virtue…much like Quixote himself.
Dawn, Quixote is successfully punctuated by musical interludes, and original songs by company member Pamela Maurer feel polished and well-integrated into a compilation otherwise comprised of so-called “cowboy” tunes and selections from the “spaghetti westerns” of Sergio Leone (including Elmer Bernstein’s theme to The Magnificent Seven). Those left scratching their head at Dawn, Quixote’s frequent allusions to the American western might keep in mind that it’s the closest thing we have in America to the chivalric romances of Cervantes’s day.
Performances from its six ensemble members—Gabriel Franken, Michael Hamilton, Chelsea Keenan, Kate Suffern, Anne Walaszek, and Nathan Wonder—are nothing short of exemplary. Each member manages to bring something uniquely idiosyncratic to their sixth of Quixote’s psyche—i.e., a peculiar obsession, a uniquely nervous tick, a special sense of humor—that suggests even among their abstract homogeneity of character there is still something clearly delineated and real about each of them. At the same time, their comic energies are so perfectly orchestrated and their chemistry so indissoluble that at times they really do seem to move and think as one.
Thus with an eclectic display of props and relics from The Building Stage’s past shows stacked high on shelves, price tags cheekily displayed (yes, they are available for purchase), Dawn, Quixote fittingly gestures towards its theater’s own imminent closure. And absolving itself of the obligation to make final declarative gestures or to resolve arbitrarily in some contrived catharsis, Dawn, Quixote—true to the spirit of comedy—prefers instead to go on forever. The daily struggles of our quotidian failures and disappointments may not be redeemable by any high-minded sense of nobility or even importance. But as our six Don Quixotes so astutely remind us, at least we’ll be together. And at least it’ll be fun. Indeed.
Anthony J. Mangini
Reviewed Monday, March 25th, 2013.
Running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes with no intermission.
Dawn, Quixote runs until April 27th, 2013. The Building Stage is located at 412 N. Carpenter St., Chicago, IL 60642. https://www.theatreinchicago.com/dawn-quixote/6176/.