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Cervantes gets excellent ‘Don Quixote’ for 400th anniversary

Published:Wednesday | October 5, 2016 | 12:00 AMMarcia Rowe
Don Quixote expresses his love for the bar wench.
A lively bar scene
Carmen Rives, Deputy Head of Mission, Kingston Embassy of Spain.

The audience was transfixed. On stage was a group of thespians with varied levels of experience, giving excellence to a script that cleverly juxtaposed the life and work of Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes.

For some members of the audience, the performances put their childhood nemesis in a friendly and clearer light, while others, were just learning about Spain's equivalent to England's William Shakespeare.

Like Shakespeare, Cervantes died in 1616, (10 days apart), but on Thursday, September 29, it was the 400th anniversary of his birth that was being celebrated.

Organised by the Kingston Embassy of Spain and the Spanish Foundation of Jamaica, the celebration provided another avenue for sharing Spanish culture. The goal was achieved through an excellent play reading, lead by veterans such as Michael Nicholson and Jean-Paul Menou.

They were given outstanding support from recent graduates and present students of the Edna Manley College (EMC).

The talented cast was guided by the director of the School of Drama, Pierre La Mair.

After Carmen Rives, deputy head of mission of the Spanish Embassy of Kingston, gave the welcome and background information on the celebration, the director also spoke on the relevance of the process prior to inviting each of the black-clad actors to the intimate size stage of the Red Bones CafÈ, New Kingston.

In a moment of jest, armed with a large book of Cervantes' work, La Mair informed the audience that he would be reading from the text. The humour went well. He then put his concept into perspective.

Cervantes, (Michael Nicholson) is jailed. Among his cellmates are a pick pocket, prostitute, political traitor, doctor, and a prosecutor.

Being the last to arrive in jail, Cervantes, the writer and a soldier, becomes the subject of a mock trial. To plead the case for his eccentric characters, he takes his persecutors into the chivalric world of his most famous, Don Quixote de La Mancha and his side-kick, Sancho Panza.

As the story unfolds, the timelessness in Cervantes' work became evident. Through the insane Don Quixote, Cervantes indirectly framed the question who determines what reality is. While La Mair, through fine singing by Samantha Thomas, concludes that it is alright to "dream the impossible dream".

Embracing their compelling and humour-filled lines, the talented cast indeed gave more than a reading. They lifted their characters from the pages of their script, with depth and thoughtfulness. Each was mindful of the importance of his/her role despite having to deliver lines from scripts in hands.

Their articulation was of a high standard, too, especially as they had to swim upstream against competing tide of background chatter from diners. Their quick, yet timely approach to getting in and out of costumes for their respective roles, was also impressive.

The director must be congratulated. La Mair's directing showed signs of brilliance. He shifted the actions from the jail, the desert of La Mancha, the home of Don Quixote, to the bar and the bedroom of an inn with great insight, despite the simplistic nature of the set; a small number of drama boxes of different sizes.

There was also an odd, large trunk of various props and bars attached to one of the boxes to symbolise the jail. La Mair's movement of each actor was well thought out too. It was also obvious that he paid the proverbial attention to details in his casting of roles, and his well-defined entrances and exits.

The cast's stellar performance was followed by what Rives called a debate.

The audience showered the cast and director seated around the perimeter of the stage with compliments and questions. Some thought the reading brought clarity to a work that they had struggled to comprehend as high school students. But for the younger members of the cast, their encounter with Cervantes and his work, came about with the invitation to participate in the project.

In her closing remarks, Rives added that her dream now was to take the play to prisons.