— Peter Anderson in Don Quixote. Photo by David Cooper.
This is Jerry's review of the original Arts Club production from 2010.
Colin Heath and Peter Anderson’s adaptation of Don Quixote, in association with Axis Theatre, has a lot of what you’d expect from these two accomplished clowns, with their roots in Cirque du Soleil, Leaky Heaven Circus, and Caravan Farm Theatre—plus the company that brought us The Number 14. It’s by turns wacky and irreverent, imaginative and improvisational, earthy and silly. The show looks great, from Melody Anderson’s commedia-style half-masks and Sheila White’s marvellous array of costumes to David Roberts’ magical set pieces and props and Gerald King’s vivid lighting. A-list director Roy Surette is at the helm, back on the west coast for this co-production with his home theatre, Montreal’s Centaur. Some of our city’s most accomplished comic actors—Allan Zinyk, Sasa Brown, Beatrice Zeilinger, along with Anderson as Quixote—join the impressive ensemble. And of course Cervantes’ novel is one of the great works of Western literature.
So why is this Don Quixote so underwhelming?
The first act lays out the familiar plot. Anderson plays the Don as a shabby Spanish aristocrat of the 17th century with dementia. He takes on the armour, the lance and the persona of Don Quixote de la Mancha and sets out on his anachronistic chivalric quest to attain the love of Dulcinea. And of course he recruits fat Sancho Panza (Michel Perron, another very able clown) as his squire. The masks enable the ensemble to change roles as quickly as they can change costumes; they take on the Don’s family, priest and doctor, the local rednecks and fascist Brotherhood, and even, in a nice coup de théâtre, the windmills against which Quixote tilts. Harry Standjofski plays a beautiful Spanish guitar. And a variety of clever contraptions stand in for the Don’s horse.
What’s most disappointing here is that none of it is funny, especially the stylized slapstick fights and the fart jokes.
The more imaginative second act unveils the theme: the forces of conformity (and racism) can only be opposed by imagination, of which theatre itself is a powerful manifestation. So we get lots of clever metatheatre, particularly Zinyk’s turn as a traveling player who performs a puppet show Don Quixote. And both Anderson and Perron have moments of real poignancy as, even in defeat, the Don inspires Sancho with the power of what it means to live large. But again, the slapstick is unfunny and the style of the show fails to fully gel with the style and themes of the novel.
Although I have seen a lot of clown-style theatre that I’ve admired, I’ve always felt that the style is reductive. This Quixote is handsome but lacks the brain and the heart of its literary source.