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Circus Quixotic, the winter circus production at The Actors Gymnasium, flips the story of Don Quixote into a modern retelling. Through metaphor and audience asides from the actors, director and adapter duo David and Kerry Catlin condense Miguel de Cervantes’s 1,072-page tome of misadventures into a family-friendly chunk of mayhem featuring the title character and his sidekick Sancho Panza. We know the plot perhaps too well. Over and over, Quixote’s preposterous assumptions get him into pickles yet leave him undaunted as he doles out chivalric justice. Meanwhile there is shadow play, sheep battles, and waving windmills, while sappy jokes abound. 

In The Actors Gymnasium’s style, the story is intertwined with circus. Solos and duos are performed by the cast while supporting roles and group circus acts are performed by the teen ensemble, a group with well-rounded circus skills ranging from ground acts (tumbling, unicycle, juggling) to aerial acts (silks, straps). Michel Rodriguez Cintra plays the charming yet fickle Don Quixote with Amanda Raquel Martinez as his patient, steady companion Sancho.

Circus Quixotic
Through 3/26: Sat 4:30 and 7:30 PM, Sun 3 PM, Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes, Evanston, actorsgymnasium.org, $20-$45

In a sweet moment, Martinez’s Sancho plays the ukulele and sings, “Oh be noble my Knight, slay for the day until all is OK,” while floating above on a lyra, accompanied by her donkey on violin. Other stand-out moments include the Chinese pole/tree climbing competition between Quixote and his shadow (played by audience plant Ryan Huemmer) and a duo aerial act between the duke and duchess (Danielle Gennaoui and Julian Hester). 

The supporting cast provides comic relief to counterbalance Quixote’s delusions, making for an enjoyable plot tempo. Some nods to modern times in the script provide light moments while ensuring that the performers recognize the problematic aspects of the original tale—namely, patriarchy is called out—and “gender is a construct” is stated early when a sexist line arises, returning at the end when Quixote finally recognizes that his trusty friend Sancho is really Sancha, the one who has been serenading him and saving him from true danger all along.

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