Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Impossible Dream

I’ve said before that I’ve been meaning to do Quijote, on the stage, for a decade. It’s a lie. It’s been more like a life-long obsession, with victories, regrets, amazing highs and terrible lows and, behind it all, the terrible shadow of the Quijote curse everybody talks about.

From an article on Terry Gilliam’s and Orson Welles’ failures:

“There is a curse that befalls those film directors who try to adapt Don Quixote for the screen. Orson Welles, for one, began filming his version of the Cervantes epic in 1957. When he died in 1985, it still wasn't finished, but in the intervening time, the picture had become an obsession. The project was blighted by funding crises that forced Welles to repeatedly stop filming and take on other directing and acting jobs to earn money to restart filming. The project outlived the man who originally played Quixote. After Welles's death, all that was left to posterity was a series of tantalisingly beautiful scenes.”

And, about the documentary of the unmaking of Quijote called Lost in La Mancha and Gilliam’s attempt to make a new Quijote film:

“If I had a dime for every time Gilliam says ‘We're fucked!’ in the film, I might be able to become a substantial backer for The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. He says it regularly when some new problem emerges - when he learns that love interest Vanessa Paradis's contract hasn't been signed; when some extras haven't rehearsed a key scene; when the ailing Rochefort takes 40 minutes to walk from his horse to his nearby car; when the money men become unreasonable; when the props aren't right; when the might of airborne Nato seems to be conspiring against him (…)There is also a Don Quixote made in 1957 by Grigori Kozintsev, the sensitive Russian director of Hamlet and King Lear. ‘I heard that version was plagued by problems,’ says Gilliam. ‘It's cursed, I tell you.’“

So here I am, finally taking on this project whose subject seems to have a cosmic pox on it. Why? Because I must. Why? Because I don’t do well with prophecies of doom (unless, of course, I am the one who’s making them…)

I really can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this before (how long has it been since the last Glissando post? A lifetime?), but Noir, Glissando, and Quijote form a trilogy that spells Death, Love, and Adventure, in other words, the three elements that sustain every story worth a damn.

There were – there have always been – small, private ironies in my productions. This trilogy is no exception. Noir, a play about one man’s fascination with Death, was titled “A Love Story.” Glissando, a play about the complexities of modern love, was advertised as “ The Art of Cruelty.” The Quijote play, which embodies the century’s spirit of adventure, will bear the subtitle “The Death of Conversation.” There are two reasons for this: one has to do with the incredibly long time I’ve been waiting to stage the Quijote, which makes me think of Didi and Gogo’s conversations while waiting for Godot; the other has to do with the insertion of a new character in the story of the Ingenious Hidalgo in the form of Alice, whose impossibly clever conversations with Humpty-Dumpty and the Knitting Sheep convinced me, a very long time ago, that wit was dead in everyday exchanges. So: Quijote and Alice, madness and absurdity, the proud dimensions of a world who looks at its refection in the mirror and refuses to recognize itself. My character is not White-Rabbit Alice, obviously (Eat me!), but its more dream-like, absurdist version, the Alice of the Looking-Glass world, who plays a game of chess with the old Hidalgo and wins. The last move on the chessboard spells Alice’s coronation as Queen, and the quiet but tragic death of the Knight of the Sad Countenance. I think that, for once, Dickens and I will have something in common, as I too will weep audibly at the death of the only (fictional) man I've ever cared about.

Remember the post where I confessed to my weakness which also happens to be my strength, and the organizing principle of my plays? No? No matter. What I was saying was that, in all my plays, everybody gravitates toward one character who is always a solitary, eccentric male figure, a Steppenwolf, a Desert Rat, a freak. In this respect, this trilogy really affected me, perhaps more than any of my other plays, because I would have done anything to protect S. Night, the character in Noir; I felt both pity and hate for Tony Chehov, the oblique character in Glissando; and I have always been in love, terminally so, with Quijote. For me, he embodies everything: chivalry and romance, absurdity and madness, fiction and reality, victory and failure. The Quest is everything. 
Mine begins now.