— If you know any windmills, warn them that Don Quixote is back in town.
Amphibian Stage Productions presents the world premiere of The Quixotic Days and Errant Nights of the Knight Errant Don Quixote July 9 at its theater on South Main Street. This adaptation of Cervantes’ classic 17th-century, two-volume novel is the first new play commissioned by the company, which concentrates on presenting works by living authors.
“[The novel Don Quixote] was a big part of my childhood in Mexico. But I noticed that here, people don’t really read it,” says Kathleen Culebro, the founding artistic director of Amphibian, when asked about her motivation for adapting this sprawling tale of the brave and chivalrous (but also delusional) would-be knight and his faithful sidekick, Sancho Panza.
To bring the novel to the stage, Culebro enlisted the aid of Brenda Withers, an accomplished actress and playwright who is also a longtime friend of the company.
“I wasn’t able to figure out how to crack that book. And I knew Brenda would. She is one of the finest writers I know,” says Culebro. “I was kind of grappling with the ideas in [the book]. I wanted this play to be more specifically about how books enliven the world, and the power they can have over our imaginations by making a dreary world very beautiful and meaningful. That’s what I asked Brenda to write: a dull world made beautiful.”
So Withers set about the daunting task of shoehorning the massive tome that is Don Quixote into a cozy two-hour stage play.
“There was a point where I had written so much material that I thought it was going to be a four-night event,” says Withers, who runs the Harbor Stage Company on Cape Cod with her partner, Jonathan Fielding, another of Amphibian’s founders.
Keeping the spirit
But, Withers was able to pare the work down to a presentable size, while taking care to honor the source material’s mix of comedy and pathos.
“This was the first time I had ownership over telling someone else’s story. And that was an important charge for me. I didn’t want to miss the playfulness, I didn’t want to miss the intelligence and I also wanted to make it palatable for contemporary audiences,” says Withers, who took about six months to develop the script. “There will be scenes that are meant to be farcical. And then scenes that are more lyrical and quieter that allow time for reflection from the characters.”
The show’s director, Matthew Earnest, also sees the script as serving both its dramatic and comedic muses.
“Comedic elements are a big part of the piece. But, it is also quite poignant here and there. I think it is safe to say that, overall, it is a very exuberant comedy piece. It is very grounded in the literature, but it is a completely joyful, kind of starry-eyed, robust comedy,” says Earnest, who grew up in this area (he attended South Hills Elementary) but who now lives and works in New York.
A slender Sancho
Part of that humor will, no doubt, be provided by Quixote’s laughable squire, Sancho Panza. But in this production, do not expect him to be the roly-poly clown we usually see.
“There is no reference [in the book] to the height or weight of Sancho Panza. The only thing the book says is that he is a laborer,” said Earnest, who cast a tall, slender actor, Ivan Jasso, in the role. Jasso is one of seven actors in the cast, and the only one who is not playing multiple roles in this story awash with characters.
But where most of us would have groaned at the idea of reading all of the several hundred pages of Cervantes’ novel, Earnest welcomed the task.
“I’m kind of a book geek. So it was like throwing me in the briar patch,” Earnest says . “And I immediately identified with some elements of [Don Quixote’s] persona. Like his refusal of worry, his insistance on living in a world of his own creation, his dependence on poetry and art for his identity and happiness, his love of being alive and his joy in encountering new things and new people.”
But, despite the size and scope of the source, Culebro feels Withers has created a stage work that honors the book for audiences of all ages.
“I wanted to try something more theatrical and visual and playful than anything we’ve ever done,” says Culebro. “And [Withers’] script is so magical and beautiful and poetic. There is a simplicity and elegance to her writing that I adore.”
The Quixotic Days and Errant Nights of the Knight Errant Don Quixote
▪ Through Aug. 2
▪ Amphibian Stage Productions
120 S. Main St.
▪ 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; and 2 p.m. Sundays