Building Stage rides off into sunset with “Dawn, Quixote”
By Hedy Weiss Theater Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org March 26, 2013 10:52AM
Kate Suffern (from left), Nathan Wonder, Chelsea Keenan, Michael Hamilton, Gabriel Franken and Anne Walaszek star in “Dawn, Quixote” at the Building Stage. | Photo by Blake Montgomery
When: Through April 27
Where: The Building Stage, 412 N. Carpenter
Info: (312) 491-1369; www.buildingstage.com
Run time: 95 minutes, with no intermission
Updated: April 28, 2013 6:12AM
Here’s a challenge: You are a serious artist who has kept a highly creative experimental theater company vibrantly alive for eight years, but now feel the need to close up shop and move on. So how do you bid goodbye to your colleagues and your audience, and shut the door on a handsome building that has always been located just a bit too far off the beaten track?
If you are Blake Montgomery, and your company is The Building Stage — the ensemble that dared to produce a marathon version of “The Ring Cycle” and a brilliant condensation of “Moby-Dick,” among many other shows — you turn to that classic tale of the deranged and bookish dreamer who dubbed himself Don Quixote. Yes, the man who rode out into the world to right all wrongs and uphold the chivalric code, no matter how ridiculous such exploits might be. And really, what could be more delusional than trying to keep a theater troupe afloat?
Of course Montgomery, founder and artistic director of The Building Stage, was not about to leave us with anything quite so literal. So his walk into the sunset turns out to be “Dawn, Quixote,” a delicious bit of post-modern trickery that is part “paella and sangria Western” (playfully infused with spaghetti Western music), and part Marx Brothers-meets-Cervantes. It’s a goofy charmer that comes very close to being heartbreaking, yet never allows itself to be maudlin.
Enter the River North warehouse space the company has called home and you will see a grand backdrop of shelves, ladders and tables organized like a highly theatrical yard sale full of old costumes, shoes, scenery, props and the other detritus of a theater. Then someone calls out “Cowboys?,” and the fun begins.
Six all-purpose Quixotes (goofily realized by Gabriel Franken, Michael Hamilton, Nathan Wonder, Chelsea Keenan, Kate Suffern and Anne Walaszek), gather in their matching gray wigs, goatees, white shirts and black breeches. And for the next 95 minutes of storytelling — conceived, adapted, directed and largely designed (set and sound) by Montgomery — they remain true to the Cervantes classic, even as they winningly upend it. It also should be noted that these Quixotes carry ukuleles, singing original ditties by Pamela Maurer that complement the easily identifiable, laughter-inducing bits of film music by Elmer Bernstein, Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone. (The dreamy lighting is by Jared Moore.)
All the expected moments unfold — the mistaken love for Dulcinea, the tilting at windmills thought to be giants, the countless rebukes and injuries, the loyal service of Sancho Panza, the final moments when madness and fantasy cede to reality and death. It is inspired, smart and touching, but it is zaniness that rules.
What’s next for Montgomery? He is thinking about getting an advanced degree so he can teach, and he wants to enjoy being free of the responsibility of a theater. As for the space, it probably won’t continue as a theater, and that is truly sad. The neighborhood might be just on the wrong side of the railroad tracks (literally), though surely it is on its way up. But another Quixote will have to lead the valiant quest.