‘Quixote Nuevo’: Where romance meets reality

Emilio Delgado and Hugo E. Carbajal in the Huntington Theatre Company’s production of Quixote Nuevo playing November 15 — December 8, 2019 at the Avenue of the Arts / Huntington Avenue Theatre. © Photo: T Charles Erickson

BOSTON – When updating a classic story, handle with care.

And that’s exactly what playwright Octavio Solis did with his play “Quixote Nuevo,” now at the Huntington Avenue Theatre through Dec. 8.

Solis, who grew up in El Paso and was one of the storytellers behind the Disney-Pixar film “Coco.” captures the heart, humor, warmth and spirit of Miguel Cervantes’ 1605  tale of the Spanish knight errant Don Quixote,  while updating it to reflect modern sensibilities and current issues.

He has hewed closely to the original storyline and its characters, who were also part of the classic musical “Man of La Mancha.” Reprising the themes in the original work, he also explores the toll that caring for those with dementia or Alzheimer’s can take, while also inserting the present-day immigration crisis and its effects on those living in the midst of it

Instead of Don Quixote de La Mancha, we have Don Quixote de La Plancha, the present-day fictional West Texas border town where Solis situates his adaptation.

At the heart of it all is 79-year-old Emilio Delgado, for 44 years the beloved repairman Luis on “Sesame Street,” a product of a border town in California and immersed in the Mexican, American, and Mexican-American cultures.

Juan Manuel Amador in the Huntington Theatre Company’s production of Quixote Nuevo playing November 15 — December 8, 2019 at the Avenue of the Arts / Huntington Avenue Theatre. © Photo: T Charles Erickson

He portrays Jose Quijano, a retired literature professor and an expert on Cervantes and his work who has begin to show signs of dementia and become increasingly difficult to care for by his sister Magdalena (Sarita Ocon), and her daughter Antonia (Gianna DiGregorio Rivera).

His family, after consulting with his therapist, Dr. Campos (Gisela Chipe) and Padre Perez (Orlando Arriaga), has decided that medications and, possibly, an assisted-living facility are in his future.

In Quijano’s confusion, he assumes the identity of Don Quixote, escaping on a three-wheeled bike. Often, he imagines he is chased by Death himself – in the form of roving bands of guitar-playing Calacas, led by Papa Calaca (Hugo E. Carbajal).

Instead of Cervantes’ inn, he stumbles into a local dive bar run by Bruno Castillo (Ivan Jasso) and his wife Rosario Castillo (Krystal Hernandez), where he befriends a down-on-her-luck dancer named Perla and where Quixote stands up to a brutal border guard.  Bruno agrees  to dub him a knight and a bedpan becomes the treasured Golden Helmet of Mambrino, later to hilarious effect.

Every Quixote needs a Sancho Panza sidekick before he can truly embark on a quest, and this Quixote has a good one in a family friend named Manny Diaz (Juan Manual  Amador), who morphs into Sancho and comes  with his trusty “steed,” a dressed-up ice cream truck that magically becomes his donkey.

He knows that he is on a fool’s errand as the two journey far out into the desert, endangering them both, but he is buoyed by Quijana’s unbreakable spirit and determination to see his task through.     

This Quixote’s quest is quite simple but also heartbreakingly difficult: He must find his lost love, his Dulcinea (Chipe in a dual role), shown in flashbacks with Jasso as Young Quijana. He vowed to return to Mexico to marry her and bring her back to Texas before life got into the way.

Instead of tilting at windmills, he tilts against a massive drone being employed by the Border Patrol, and at the oft-mentioned border wall.

The warmth that shone through in Delgado’s years on “Sesame Street” is still apparent in his Quixote, a nobleman with a love that has not been dimmed by time.

Director KJ Sanchez has respect for both the source material and Solis’ new vision and the design team’s production values ring true, from colorful costumes – especially for the Calacas –by Rachel Anne Healy to the Tejano music of composer and sound designer David R. Molina and co-composer Eduardo Robledo.

“Quixote Nuevo” is where romance meets reality, and the legend lives on. And it boasts a Quixote whom you may recognize in your own life, and he will make you laugh and cry.

 “Quixote Nuevo.” Written by Octavio Solis. Directed by KJ Sanchez. Produced by the Huntington Theatre Company in association with Hartford Stage and Alley Theatre. At the Huntington Avenue Theatre through Dec. 8. Huntingtontheatre.org