Books are everywhere in “Quixote,” a new music/theater piece now premiering at the Kasser Theater at Montclair State University, as part of the Peak Performances series. They appear in front of actors’ heads, as if they were faces; they fall from the rafters with an emphatic thud; they cover a character as he lies in bed; their pages are ruffled to create music.
“Quixote” was inspired by Miguel de Cervantes’ classic novel “Don Quixote,” but is not a straightforward re-telling of the tale. It’s more like the surrealistic dream of someone who has just read the book. Don Quixote’s love, Dulcinea, appears as a flower struggling to bloom; his horse, Rocinante, as a giant percussion instrument that an actor/musician plays. There was more abstract poetry than storytelling or dialogue in composer Amy Beth Kirsten’s lyrics.
“Quixote” is a team effort by Kirsten and director-designer-actor Mark DeChiazza, and features singers from the HOWL ensemble and percussionist/actors from Sandbox Percussion. And it is the first piece wholly developed as part of Peak Performances’ extended residency program, PeARL (Performing Arts Research Laboratory).
For all of its striking images and serenely beautiful music, through – the singers sang with a haunting solemnity that contrasted with the earthy simplicity of Sandbox Percussion’s sounds — “Quixote” got a mixed reaction on opening night. Even though it lasted only 75 minutes, quite a few audience members left before it was over. Those who stayed applauded enthusiastically at the end, though.
Peak Performances is known for challenging, avant-garde work. And “Quixote” is particularly challenging and avant-garde, even by Peak Performances’ standards. Take that as a warning or an enticement, depending on your tastes.
The last two performances of “Quixote” take place at 8 p.m. March 25 and 3 p.m. March 26; visit peakperfs.org.