Fort Worth — “Not all those who wander are lost” is a famous line from J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings series but it could just as easily refer to the title hero of Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote. Cervantes’ monumental piece of literature is considered by many to not only be the first novel, but the greatest as well; the figure of the aged don tilting at windmills with courage and nobility (if not a touch of insanity) has become ageless and iconic.
How fitting then that a theater such as Hip Pocket Theatre, known for its steadfast and unique way of expressing itself, would attempt its own version of Don Quixote. Adapters Lake Simons and John Dyer (with music by Dyer), interpret Don through HPT’s thematic mainstays of movement, music, color, and purposeful whimsy. Dyer and Simons, who also directs, are able to condense Cervantes’ massive novel into a wordless show that lasts only an hour long, yet captures the tragicomic soul of the original.
Jeff Stanfield plays Don Quixote and Rick Gutierrez is Sancho Panza. Just like in the novel, the Don is obsessed with reading, and then living, through the books of medieval chivalry. He sets out with his Sancho in tow, astride the faithful steed (called "Rocinante" in the book, but a broom with a tied-on bandana here) looking to right injustices and bring back the knight’s chivalric code.
Those familiar with episodes from the novel will recognize the legendary windmill scene and a few others; however, literal transposition is not the goal here. Simons and company weave a visual and aural tale that more resembles an avant-garde jazz and dance variation on a literary theme.
Stanfield and Gutierrez play the only two characters with names in this excellent large ensemble and puppeteering cast (Frieda Austin, Brian Cook, Christina Cranshaw, Allen Dean, Jennie Lynn Godfrey, Rebo Hill, Jeremy Jackson, Courtney Mentzel, and James Warila), yet they all perform more like a seamless unit. Stanfield’s Don projects—merely with his eyes—tortured heroism with a madness that has method.
Dyer’s music (crucial in a play without dialogue) is haunting and propulsive. Johna Sewell’s costumes of grays and black with material strips strewn here and there for the ensemble, green-colored armor for the Don, and period Spanish peasant farmer garb for Sancho is inspired.
There have been many debates about the nature of Cervantes’ Don Quixote: is it just a satirical comedy, or is there something quite sad and profound about Don Quixote’s journey? It is really all these things and more, farce and philosophy unlimited. Hip Pocket Theatre’s immersive version wanders beautifully, yet is never lost.