Don Quixote mounts his horse to face his nemesis Friston. The two have a deal: If Quixote wins, Friston stops terrorizing him. If Quixote loses, he abandons his quest for adventures and knighthood. But Quixote isn't a real knight, and the battle leads to a harsh realization in The NOLA Project's adaptation of Don Quixote at the New Orleans Museum of Art's Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden.
Alonso Quixano is a dreamer. He wants more in his old age than just long naps and slow days. To combat his unrest, the avid reader has invented his bandit-fighting alter-ego Don Quixote (Ian Hoch). The story is introduced by Quixote's trusted squire Sancho Panza (Mike Spara), who tells the audience about Quixote's adventures. This frame works well as the likable Spara plays to the crowd and his excellent comedic timing helps the narrative make smooth transitions. Hoch delivers a dazzling, wide-eyed performance, giving Quixote endearing sincerity without making him seem crazy even as he fights a windmill he believes to be a giant.
Adapted by Pete McElligott from Miguel de Cervantes' novel, the production balances the work's focus on chivalry and honesty with playful humor. Quixote's trusted horse Rocinante is hilariously embodied by the team of Alex Smith at the front end and Becca Chapman at the back end. The two actors snort, kick and dance, adding warmth and clever physical humor. The show isn't necessarily geared toward children (those under 6 are not admitted) though it is easily accessible to young audience members. Under Jessica Podewell's direction, there's a smart mix of humor for children and adults (including a gag about a mispronounced name) and the jokes don't get corny. Julie Winn's Spanish-inspired frilly period costumes add to the show's charm.
Quixote's niece Antonia (AshleyRose Bailey) tries to convince her uncle to return home to a quiet life. As the voice of reason in the comedy, she tells Quixote he's too old to act so childishly. Bailey's conviction helps Antonia's arc reach its potential and makes Quixote more sympathetic as a dreamer.
Quixote's missions, however ill-conceived, put him and others in danger. On his way to fight evil figures, he's confronted by the thief Ladron (Leslie Claverie), whom he mistakes for a banker. Claverie's character, though small, makes a big impact as Quixote converts her to his vision of the world. These conquests lead to a confrontation with a real murderer, Gines de Pasamonte (Joshua Sienkiewicz). The imposing Sienkiewicz makes the final battle scene scary as Quixote tries to live up to his dream.
The final 10 minutes of the show are unfocused, and parts seem unnecessary as Sancho liberally bends the narrator's role to relate the story to contemporary issues. But overall, the narrative is tight and the show is a well-produced delight.