Theater review: 'I Don Quixote'

A production by Ro’i Chen; directed by Yevgeny Arie Gesher; performed on September 3.

'I Don Quixote'  (photo credit: DIMA BRICKMAN)
'I Don Quixote'
(photo credit: DIMA BRICKMAN)
Before we start on the “why,” let’s begin with the “what.” This Quixote dares us, plays us, enmeshes and expels us, assaults and woos us, begs for our belief and taunts it, severally and all together.
This Quixote is Theater, straight up.
And with actors of such stature as Doron Tavori and Sasha Demidov alternating in the title role, you expect and get excellence, from them and from the rest of the cast.
The big Noga stage, designed by Semyon Fastuch, is a huge, rusty, iron-riveted prison cell that deliberately dwarfs its inmates. These are Prisoner One/Quixote (Tavori/Demidov) and Prisoner Two/Sancho Panza (Alexander Senderovitch). One is a lifer. Two gets out in three years. They’ve been cellmates for five. One has just finished reading aloud, for the umpteenth time, Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes to his illiterate bunk-buddy.
It starts there. The stirring adventures of the literary world’s most celebrated duo weave into and impinge upon the prisoners’ “real” lives until Two gets suddenly released. Then the insanity that’s been waiting for One in the wings pounces, and it all goes downhill from there. I won’t spoil the fun – and there’s a good bit of that – and spell out the farcical bits of what ultimately becomes tragic.
Tavori’s One/Quixote is more grounded and absolute, menacing and vulnerable at the same time. Demidov’s is more tenuous, less connected; you almost see the break with reality coming.
Both have an incomparable partner in Senderovitch’s Two/Sancho. He’s funny, touching, irritating, ingratiating and completely wonderful.
Yuval Yanai as the warder/physician/ slavemaster still remains somehow human beneath his mandated, casual cruelty. Natasha Manor’s nurse/wardress/ Madam are creative and marvelously individual characters while Karin Seruya neatly cameos as Two’s wife.
Playwright Gilad Evron and director Ofira Henig did what I termed a “meaty retake” of Quixote in 2008. This one is another look at the great 17th century classic that rivals the Bible in sales.
So does it all work? Almost, almost, and that brings us to the “why.”
Once or twice, One/Quixote hums the beginning of the title song from Man of La Mancha: “I am I, Don Quixote, the lord of La Mancha, destroyer of evil am I” and that song is later reinforced by the Hebrew slaves’ chorus from Verdi’s Nabucco and Jacques Brel singing “The Impossible Dream” in which one man will strive “with his last ounce of courage/ To fight the unbeatable foe, to reach the unreachable star,” so that “the world will be better for this.”
There’s a word for that, derived from Quixote. It’s “quixotic”; something that’s ambitious, idealistic to the core and yet completely unrealistic. We’re quixotic if we know that yet try to change things anyway. The ogres and monsters of our day are corruption, needless brutality, indifference, selfishness and the rest, and I think that Chen’s Quixote is trying to address that.
He’s also saying we need each other, that human life is interdependent, that unless we realize that we are lost, as One is lost when Two is released. That’s a huge bite for one play.
We all need our Dulcinea, Quixote’s unattainable love, and Chen’s Quixote closely reaches for her.