There is a 21-foot safety pin and Louise Bourgeois' massive long-legged spider in the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden. There usually are no windmills. Or giants. But that doesn't stop Don Quixote from exhorting his sidekick Sancho Panza to join him in battle.
"Some giants have arms two miles wide," Ian Hoch marvels as Quixote. "Where there are giants, there are ill-gotten treasures."
Panza has a more pressing problem. The thief Gines de Pasamonte, whom he has just taunted in crude terms, has escaped from a lackadaisical guard. Quixote actually intervened to help free him. De Pasamonte flees, announcing he's going to find Quixote’s beloved Dulcinea.
Quixote and Panza pursue their storied and absurd adventures in The NOLA Project's adaptation of Miguel de Cervantes' novel, which marked its 400th anniversary last year. Presented in partnership with the New Orleans Museum of Art,
Don Quixote runs in the sculpture garden adjacent to the museum May 4-22.
The story is best known for the classic scene of the delusional Quixote fighting a windmill he believes to be a giant. That vignette is part of The NOLA Project's adaptation, but it's just one of Quixote's misguided quests.
Quixote is an old man who becomes enchanted by romantic novels celebrating past eras. He decides to take up arms and restore chivalry, the institution of knighthood and honor. He enlists Panza as a sidekick, but Panza, though loyal, is drawn to the possibility of acquiring riches with Quixote. Their miserable failures provide the story's absurdity and humor. After Quixote becomes convinced a flock of sheep is an evil army, he and Panza attack the herd, and a group of outraged merchants beat Quixote and Panza, a humiliating result for a couple of would-be knights.
"On the surface, it's a story about a knight seeking adventure," says Peter McElligott, who wrote the script for The NOLA Project. "Every deed is in honor of (Quixote's love) Dulcinea. It's romantic."
McElligott used adventures from the original story and added some new ones. While Quixote sees what he wants to see in the world, he pursues his visions with virtuous if misguided conviction.
"True madness is to see life as it is and not as it should be," Quixote tells Antonia, his niece.
Though the story is filled with pathos, McElligott's Quixote is a simple man pursuing grand dreams. McElligott also wrote the script for The NOLA Project's Adventures in Wonderland, retelling the story of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland as an immersive production in the sculpture garden in May 2014. His characterization of the White Knight was part of the inspiration to do Don Quixote. McElligott notes that there's also a bit of silliness to the show, a la the film The Princess Bride.
Directing the show is Jessica Podewell, who worked on Southern Rep's production of McElligott's drama With a Bang.
"The beautiful idea (in Don Quixote) is that you can't give up your dreams," Podewell says. "Reality is tough. Quixote's ability is to see the beauty in the world that we should all see."