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Cal Shakes’ ‘Quixote Nuevo’ fanciful yet inconsistent

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Emilio Delgado, foreground, plays the title character in California Shakespeare Theater’s “Quixote Nuevo”; in the back, from left, are Gianna DiGregorio Rivera, Juan Amador, Carlos Aguirre and Amy Lizardo. (Courtesy Kevin Berne)

In California Shakespeare Theater’s production of Octavio Solis’ gorgeous tapestry of a play “Quixote Nuevo,” a retired literature professor and Cervantes scholar fantasizes that he himself is the heroic Don Quixote.

With age-related dementia, Quijano/Quixote (played by Emilio Delgado) escapes from his family’s care. His sister (Michele Apriña Leavy) plans to put him into an assisted living facility.

Chaotic misadventures ensue.

This Quixote is a present-day Chicano, living in a Texas border town. In his mind, the border is a (Trumpian) wall separating him from his long-lost love, Dulcinea (Sarita Ocón).

He’s determined to smash it and reclaim her, and along the way — after recruiting a sidekick as his Sancho Panza (a hilarious Juan Amador) — vows to correct injustice. He ends up tilting at his own windmills, and ghosts — not Cervantes’.

After having created several previous adaptations of the early-17th-century Spanish classic, Solis wrote this version specifically for Cal Shakes; its world premiere is directed by the imaginative KJ Sanchez and performed by an all-Latinx cast.

Solis drew from his own background to imagine this fanciful/gritty-realistic world of karaoke bars, border guards and drones, illegal immigrants and farmworkers.

Solis’ dialogue, as always, varies from the lyrical to the comically prosaic (with Spanish sprinkled in), a perfect fit for his exploration of the nebulous border between reality and fantasy at the end of life.

Still, the two-and-a-half-hour play feels too long and repetitive. On opening night, the timing was inconsistent, and unfortunately, this Don Quixote lacks the comic chops and the charisma so essential to the character, and to this outdoor performance.

But there’s much to love: Annie Smart’s clever set and Ulises Alcala’s colorful, wacky costumes; a terrific singing and dancing ensemble (Amy Lizardo is a particular standout) that cavorts in gigantic sombreros, serapes and the like, representing the fantastical spirits that Quixote imagines, plus drunken cowboys, a herd of sheep and more; and not least, the few songs, most composed by the music director and sound designer David R Molina.

A search in a “migrant boneyard” in the desert for the missing old man; Quixote, in long johns, a poncho and a thrift-sale bedpan for a helmet, pedaling around on an outsized tricycle with a horse’s skull on the handlebars; paletero Sancho’s Popsicle cart standing in for his beloved donkey; the scenes, filtered through Quixote’s mind, of his troubled past: Solis’ singular vision and poetic sensibility linger.

Quixote Nuevo
Presented by California Shakespeare Theater
Where: Bruns Memorial Amphitheatre, 100 California Shakespeare Theater Way, Orinda
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays, closes July 1
Tickets: $33 to $83
Contact: (510) 548-9666, www.calshakes.org

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