Maybe it wasn’t such an “impossible dream” when Kit Steinkellner and Amanda Glaze met at UCLA. They found that they clicked in a creative way and their third collaboration is a play based on the classic novel Don Quixote, written by Steinkellner, directed by Glaze, and produced by the Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble at the Powerhouse Theatre. Their dream has come true, for Quixotic is a first-rate comedy that gradually gets serious, and also an incisive comment on the tensions existing in the current economic climate.
Steinkellner has set her modern retelling of Cervantes’ epic in the office of an insurance firm in an unnamed American city. The time is very much the present – an economic crisis is causing companies to downsize and the employees at Munsch-Littleton are fearful of what may come. The employees include a humorless drudge, her slacker admirer, a ditzy receptionist, a brown-nosing temp, a good-natured little guy – and Arthur Quick, the office nerd, who rides a bike, reads books, and is a dreamer.
One day Arthur hears some music that no one else seems to hear. Maybe it’s the influence of reading old stories of chivalry or maybe it’s the sterile, hopeless work atmosphere, but Arthur suddenly reinvents himself as Sir Quixotic, Knight of the Sorrowful Countenance. He comes to work wearing a colander for a helmet and frying pans for breast-plates, dubs his bicycle “Rosie” (for Don Quixote’s horse Rocinante), and even appoints his desk-buddy, the good-natured Sam Panser (Sancho Panza) as his squire-sidekick .
Needless to say, Arthur seems crazy as a fruitcake to his co-workers, and in real life, he would be given a long leave of absence. But the office manager, Allie, has a warm heart beneath her steely exterior. She lets Sir Quixotic stay – after all, he does come to work every day, as long as he thinks his assignments are “quests.” Besides, Sir Quixotic has designated Allie as his “Princess” (Dulcinea, Don Quixote’s ideal woman), and Allie, experiencing an unhappy affair with one of the firm’s executives, can’t exactly reject a man who showers her with endearments.
The laughs come one upon another as the knight in shining kitchenware fights “giants” (skyscrapers, standing in for Don Quixote’s windmills), and dodges the evil “enchantments” of his co-workers’ office politics. But a knight can only do so much. One of Arthur’s co-workers has evil intentions. Although Steinkellner and Glaze direct our sympathies to Arthur, some audience members may identify with the feelings of that co-worker. When our jobs are threatened, many of us might be prompted to do whatever it takes for our personal survival. Quixotic illustrates both the frustration of workers in an uncertain time, and the danger that lies in looking for scapegoats and indulging in office back-stabbing.
Glaze’s brisk direction and the use of occasional overlapping dialogue keeps the play moving quickly, bringing to mind the movie comedies of the 1930s. The characterizations are both broad caricatures and insightful studies of office types. Outstanding among the cast are Sarah Gold, hilarious as the receptionist, Ariel Goldberg as nice guy Sam, Coco Kleppinger as Allie, and of course, Isaac Wade in an actors’ dream role as Arthur/Quixotic. Playing a crazy person may look easy but the trick is to make us aware of the crazy person as a person.
Kudos also to scenic designer Eric Svaleson, whose set for the office is realistically drab enough to make anyone wish they could work in a castle.
Quixotic, by Kit Steinkellner, directed by Amanda Glaze, through November 22, 8pm Thursdays-Saturdays, $20, The Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 2nd St., 310. 396.3680 x3.