The man of La Mancha rides again in Kira Obolensky’s inventive adaptation of The Return of Don Quixote, which occupies the main stage at People’s Light & Theatre Company in a charming production by Director Ken Marini.
“Freely adapted” from Miguel de Cervantes’ novel Don Quixote of La Mancha, Obolensky continues the grand tale begun by Cervantes 400 years earlier. In Obolensky’s version, Alonzo Quixano (Graham Smith) is now late in years and has retreated within the walls of his country manor, where he plans on living out his final days in relative repose. An unauthorized biography, however, has just been released and is causing a stir throughout Spain. It tells a romantic story of an earlier period in Quixano’s life when he roamed the country as Don Quixote, a chivalrous knight errant, who along with his servant Sancho (Chris Faith), battled windmills and fell in love with the beautiful Dulcinea. Hoping to exploit the popularity of the unauthorized biography for his own profit, Sancho convinces Alonzo to leave his quiet life and embark on a search for Dulcinea. What follows is a strange but entertaining story that travels the thin line dividing fantasy and reality, sanity and madness.
Whimsical but never frivolous, Marini’s production changes moods as often as the story changes locations. Inspired by the carnivals of the era, scenic designer James F. Pyne Jr. uses painted muslin drops, cutout props, rolling wagons and wooden horses to keep the action moving swiftly.
Obolensky makes it clear from the beginning that she intends on celebrating Quixote’s adventurous brand of idealism though she repeatedly gets sidetracked examining issues such as authorship and the malleability of identity. Luckily, Faith and Smith are on hand to keep us focused on the unlikely friendship between the scruffy Sancho and reserved Alonzo.
One of the area’s most consistently pleasing performers, Faith occupies the role of Sancho like a comfortable pair of jeans. Jolly but manipulative, Faith’s Sancho is devious, ambitious and even a little cruel, but ultimately he is good at heart and endearingly loyal to his friend and master.
It is Smith’s performance that makes the production worth a visit. Playing the role with the sort of gravitas usually associated with the great tragic heroes of Shakespeare, as Alonzo he is cautious, guarded and even a little fearful. His Quixote is just the opposite, a bold and courageous man of great conviction. Yet as different as they are, neither is any less real. They are both virtuous men and in his quietly assured performance, Smith not only provides the production with its moral center, but also gives us a Quixote, and an Alonzo, worth rooting for.
Through Oct. 16. $25-$45. People’s Light & Theatre Company, 39 Conestoga Rd., Malvern. 610.644.3500. peopleslight.org