Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Don Quixote: Book II at the Maryland Renaissance Festival

The Huffington Post recently named Don Quixote as one of thirteen books that many adults claim to have read, but actually have not done so.     The Accidental Thespian has read the novel and realizes that the novel is not simply an expanded version of the Broadway musical Man of La Mancha.
In fact  Miguel de Cervantes wrote the book in two parts and they were published a decade apart.   While the modern editions of the novel include both "books" they are vastly different in tone.

In 2009, Baltimore playwright, Mike Field, undertook the monumental task of adapting Book One as the featured main stage production for the professional acting company of The Maryland Renaissance Festival.     While many of the familiar elements of the story were referred to, including attacking windmills believing they were giants and the finding of the Golden Helmet, Mr. Field chose to focus the majority of the story on one of the adventures in which Don Quixote, knight errant, helps two young women reunite with the men that they love - the Cardenio story.    The Thespian thoroughly enjoyed the production, but felt that the limitations placed on the production by the nature of the event and the limit of a less than 90 minute running time hurt the adaptation.    The thespian hopes that Mr. Field gets another chance to expand Book One into a full-evening production in the future.

For the 2010 Maryland Renaissance Festival season, Mr. Field has concluded what he began in 2009 and adapted Book Two of Don Quixote.   The production is directed by first time main stage director at the Festival John Sadowsky.     For those who saw the production of Book One the opening of the show is a recreation of the ending of the 2009 production as a play being performed for a Duke and Duchess.    The Don Quixote of Book 2 has become world famous and the adaptation focuses on Don Quixote's quest to free his beloved Dulcinea from a curse wherein she is trapped in the body of a hideously ugly peasant.  (audience members beware of this plot point.)

Meanwhile the Duke (Glenn Evans)  and Duchess (Joy Evans) bored with their aristocratic life, are delighted when Don Quixote (Fred Nelson) and his faithful, put-upon squire, Sancho Panza (Brian H. Reynolds) arrive at their castle.   The terrific pair are great fun to watch and Mr. Evans, in particular has made some character choices that are absolutely hilarious.  With the help of a troupe of actors they decide to use the famous pair for their own entertainment, inadvertently adding wonderful pathos when some of their amusements do not turn out quite as they intend.    For example, it is Sancho's dream to become the governor of an island.   The Duke and Duchess grant his wish and it turns out that Sancho is quite good at the job.    They even tempt Sancho's long-suffering wife, Teresa (Nora Achrati) who succumbs to the temptations of being treated as a high status governor's wife, ignoring the fact that the nobility is simply mocking her pretentions for their own pleasure.  Ms. Achrati is a true comedienne and joyful new addition to this year's acting company.

Meanwhile, two characters who appeared in Book One, Nicholas the Barber (Casey Severn) and Father Pedro (Brian Douglas) have been trailing Don Quixote in the hopes that they can restore his sanity and convince him to return home.  While their roles are smaller in Book Two, they are significant to the tale and both are wonderful performers.

The production is very smoothly staged by Mr. Sadowsky who easily stages the many locations and seamlessly transitions from one scene to the next.    This is a challenge at the Maryland Renaissance Festival as there are no modern scenery changing devices available.

The entire cast performs with enthusiasm.   Mr. Nelson is appropriately a commanding presence as Don Quixote, but takes the ribaldry at which he is frequently the target with comedic skill.   Mr. Reynolds brings a talent for physical comedy, yet he also breaks the audience's heart as he embodies Sancho's realization of the importance of his beloved master's quest.

The acting company of Dave Joria, Stephanie Offutt, Graham Pilato, Jack Powers, Heather Scheeler, John Dickson and Mary Schmidt Wakefield are a perfectly balanced ensemble.   It appears that Mr. Sadowsky cast each one for their individual talents and each is allowed to shine in small roles, yet they work beautifully together as a unit when called upon by the script.

The only downside to the production comes from the hard wooden benches that the audience must sit on for the 80 minute production.   If you have a cushion bring it for this show worth risking the aching bum.

Don Quixote: Book Two will be performed at 2 p.m. on the Globe Theatre Stage at the Maryland Renaissance Festival through the end of the festival's run - October 23 and 24, 2010.

For performance information please visit

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