For the Reckord | Cervantes and Don Quixote celebrated - Staged reading honours Spanish writer and famous character
A highly enjoyable staged reading was held last Thursday to celebrate both the birthday and the 400th anniversary of the death of Miguel de Cervantes, Spain's most famous and one of the world's greatest writers. It was presented by the Embassy of Spain, in partnership with the Spanish-Jamaican Foundation and the Edna Manley School of Drama, at Red Bones Blues Cafe, New Kingston.
Born on September 29, 1547, and dying in 1616, Cervantes was a novelist, poet and playwright - as well as a soldier, accountant and tax collector. All those occupations were either implicit or specifically mentioned in the reading, titled Cervantes Celebration, which was compiled from various plays and novels by Cervantes and moulded into a coherent whole.
Directed by acting director of the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts' School of Drama, Pierre Lemaire it featured (with two exceptions) graduates or students of the school. The exceptions were Marvin George and Jean-Paul Menou, both lecturers at the school.
Michael Nicholson played two characters - Cervantes himself and Don Quixote, the knight errant hero of the author's most famous novel, The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha. The text of the reading was as much about the activities of the lovable, half-crazy idealist Don Quixote as it was about the life of his creator. In fact, the text highlights many parallels between their lives.
George's main role was as Sancho Panza, the don's squire. Menou played several parts, including the lawyer prosecuting Cervantes over a tax issue. Evone Walters played Antonia, Cervantes' niece and the wife of one of Menou's characters. Leisha Francis played Aldonza - a servant in an inn - with whom Don Quixote falls passionately in love, and Nicholas Amore played the innkeeper, among other roles. Other actors and actresses also played several roles in this amusing, creole-laced play.
In introducing the audience to Cervantes Chargee d'Affaires of the Embassy of Spain, Carmen Rives, said to the Spanish Don Quixote was a sort of national hero. She invited listeners to ask why Cervantes choose "a mad person, a dreamer" to be the hero of his novel.
The answer came during the reading, which showed how important the imagination was to Cervantes. It was more precious than gold, he said during his trial, and with it he created Don Quixote, who wants to right all the world's wrongs. Who but a madman of a dreamer, the audience would have asked, would take on such a task?
To Aldonza "life stinks like a rotten fish", but to Quixote "facts are the enemy of truth". In many beautiful passages he speaks of his fight against the dull of mind and unimaginative.
Ambiguously, as he dies at the end of the play, Quixote declares "the (k)night has triumphed." Is the audience supposed to hear "knight," meaning Quixote, or "night," meaning darkness and ignorance?
Rives stated: "Cervantes is not only Spanish; he is Latin American and he is universal. He has been able to reach children and adults from different eras and cultures. His works reveal the mysteries of the human soul - love, impossible dreams, lost causes, success and defeat."
She also referred to the Broadway musical I, Don Quixote, based on the Cervantes novel, and its hit song To Dream The Impossible Dream. It was sung by one of the actresses, Samantha Thompson, to close the show.
Rives reminded me of the relationship that the Embassy of Spain has with the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts. Two years ago the Embassy invited a clown company to conduct workshops at the School of Drama and, in November 2015, a saxophonist to lecture on contemporary music.
Additionally, in April, the embassy facilitated a workshop at the School of Drama by actors from Sociedad Actoral Hispanomericana, a Miami-based theatre group linked to the Cultural Centre of Spain in the US city.
There is good news for those who missed the reading. Lemaire mentioned to the audience that a series of staged readings of plays will begin early in the year in the School of Drama's tiny After Dark Theatre and he told me subsequently that Cervantes Celebration was on his list of probable choices.
Another bit of good news for the audience was that Spanish wine from Quixote's La Mancha region of Spain, which was recently introduced into Jamaica, was available for tasting and for purchase at a special price.