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Theater Review

This New 'Don Quixote' Is Still Chasing After Illusions

A staging by Bilingual Foundation of the Arts tries a bit too hard as it pursues elusive goals.

October 03, 2000|MICHAEL PHILLIPS | TIMES THEATER CRITIC

A year ago, the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts came up with a lively and textured production of Lorca's "Blood Wedding." The company strives for similar performance qualities, this time in an antic vein, in its new adaptation of "Don Quixote," now at the Los Angeles Theatre Center.

This time, though, you feel the effort, every ounce of it. At least until the final 10 minutes or so.

For its climax, director Margarita Galban's staging offers a sharply choreographed duel between Leon (Jaime Arze), an actor in love with the role of Cervantes' knight errant, and the harsh realist Don Luis (Rey Lopez), Leon's nemesis. Those witnessing the duel are taken in. When Leon pops up to remind us that it was only a play--that Quixote will live on--the production's conceit finally realizes its full effectiveness.

Getting there, however, is tougher.

We're in a 17th century Spanish marketplace designed by Estela Scarlata, with noteworthy costumes by Carlos Brown. Strolling performers Leon (Arze) and Alonso (Agustin Coppola) are recruiting actors to join them in their version of "Don Quixote." A comely noblewoman (Paola Bontempi, she of the chestnut curls) becomes Leon's "Dulcinea." If the play comes off successfully, perhaps the noblewoman's uncle, a duke, will excuse the taxes being levied on the townsfolk.

It takes a long time for Leon to assemble his ragtag troupe and launch Cervantes' story. Adapters Galban and Lina Montalvo (English version by Patricia DeLaunay) veer in and out of the intertwining stories, uncertainly. The quality of the sight gags is strained. While it's fun to see the dashing, eagle-profile Arze use bits of straw as a temporary beard and mustache, the joke wears thin a second time.

Make no mistake, Cervantes' original is rife with low comedy. He wrote an impudent spoof of balladry and literary chivalry in two parts. In this country, this great satiric novel's reputation has been more or less flattened by, among other things, "Man of La Mancha," as well as by well-meaning English teachers who manage to overlook Cervantes' outlaw streak and often hilarious coarseness in favor of the protagonist's finer sentiments. Similarly, in her program notes, Bilingual Foundation of the Arts president Carmen Zapata stresses the story's "strong emphasis on human values and high moral standards."

Well, kind of, but "Don Quixote" doesn't benefit from too much of that stuff. Cervantes managed to spoof, invert, comment upon and embody romantic idealism. It's an amazing feat. But if you go straight to the idealism, you miss everything else. Too often, this production misses, and its own brand of comedy just isn't brisk or inventive enough en route to those final, exciting minutes, when the swords come out.

Only with these final flourishes does "Don Quixote" pull us all the way into its dual realities--Quixote's story, atop Leon's.

* "Don Quixote: The Last Adventure," Bilingual Foundation of the Arts, Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., downtown. In English (Oct. 12-15): Thursday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 3 p.m. In Spanish (this Thursday-Sunday and Oct. 19-29): Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Ends Oct. 29. $17-$24. (323) 225-4044. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.

Jaime Arze: Leon, Don Quixote

Paola Bontempi: Aldonza, Dulcinea

Augustin Coppola: Alonso, Sancho Panza

Hector de Alba: Gypsy, Conde de Valparaiso

Alejandra Flores: Gypsy,

Condesa de Valparaiso

Berta Holguin: Jimena

Mario Lara: Barbero

Rey Lopez: Don Luis

Antonio Nesme: Lope

Ed Ricard: Gines de Pasamonte

Juan Zadala: Guard, Gypsy

Written by Margarita Galban and Lina Montalvo, based on Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. English-language translation by Patricia DeLaunay. Directed by Margarita Galban. Set by Estela Scarlata. Costumes by Carlos Brown. Lighting by Robert Fromer. Choreographer Mari Sandoval. Fight director Ray Michaels Quiroga. Stage manager Cecilia Garcia.

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