What: World premier of play by Kit Steinkellner, directed by Amanda Glaze
Where: The Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 2nd St., Santa Monica
When: Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. through November 22
Phone: (310) 396-3860 ext. 3
By John Farrell
If Don Quixote the sorrowful knight created in the Spanish Renaissance by Cervantes came to life in the 21st century would he still find windmills to fight?
Playwright Kit Steinkellner answers that question with a resounding “Yes!” in her play “Quixotic,” which is being given its world premiere in performances by the Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble at the Powerhouse Theatre in Santa Monica. His windmills are computer terminals, the vast Spanish plane is a small office in a non-descript building in a cold and desperate city, but the story still inspires.
That non-descript office is one of many belonging to Munsch-Littleton Insurance, a company which, over the course of the play, finds itself in exactly the same kind of downsizing financial difficulty ever corporation seems to be facing this season. (Whether Littleton was predicting anything is unclear.) It is an office much like so many, and the six cubicle denizens and the office manager are people you may have worked with before: Darcy, the gossipy receptionist (Sarah Gold,) Carter, the shy young man who can’t quite ask his cubicle mate out (Nathaniel Meek,) Sloan, that cubicle mate who is also pretty shy (Paige White.) There is Allie the beautiful office manager (Coco Kleppinger,) trying to end a relationship with her boss and company owner Richard (Trevor Algatt,) and Lily, the overqualified temp who wants to turn her job into a permanent position. Add to them Sam Panser (Ariel Goldberg,) and Arthur Quick, the office misfit (Isaac Wade,) a man who works hard but is clearly more than a little socially awkward.
As the local economy tanks pressures build in the office, but they are nothing compared to the pressure Arthur creates after reading a certain dog-eared novel and deciding he is a knight errant. He arrives at the office one day on his noble steed, a broken bicycle, clothed in armor he has salvaged from his kitchen, including a shining colander as helmet and a soup ladle that he wields as a sword.
Most offices couldn’t handle a knight-in-kitchen-armor, but there is an overload of work and Sam convinces Arthur that, to end the enchantment of an ogre, he must do his work even more efficiently than ever before. Sam encourages Arthur and Arthur, in turn, makes Sam his squire in an elaborate ceremony.
Allie resents what she sees as foolishness and provokes Arthur into self-destructive behavior that gets her fired. Like his 17th century counterpart, Arthur does not end his career happily, but he inspires important changes in the lives of those around him.
Steinkellner’s deceptively simple characters have great emotional appeal and a clever feel of reality. Arthur’s delusion is one of goodness, and his poetic language is never overdone.
Wade’s Arthur is charmingly understated. He has the saddest of eyes, the softest of demeanors, but, when he is fighting skyscrapers with a borrowed umbrella they flash with ferocity. Like his ancestor Sancho Sam knows that Arthur is crazy, but he recognizes the beauty of Arthur’s delusion.
Kleppinger is a center of sanity as the office’s manager Allie, but she suffers from a love for Richard which he has pushed away for a chance to marry the boss’s daughter. Her beauty is matched by a final insight that frees her from pointless loves. Gold is properly ditzy as the slightly airheaded Darcy, and Katz uses the perfect office attire she wears to convey her own personal feeling of superiority to her office mates. Meek makes carter the kind of cubicle inmate who doesn’t quite know how to escape, and White is almost a caricature of repression. Algatt is clearly certain of his charm and seems more than willing to use it for sex and for office political gain.
“Quixotic” takes place in a starkly white office where the computer terminals and keyboards, water-cooler and four-drawer files look unfortunately familiar. How much time has scenic designer Eric Svaleson spent in one? Priscilla Watson has an eye for office everyday costume, and creates in Arthur’s homemade armor a whimsical kind of sculpture.
Director Glaze mixes moments of frenzy with scenes of office boredom, and lets her actors find in their lines a reality that anyone who has done time at a terminal will recognize.
That Don Quixote is an immortal no one doubts. It is fine to see that his philosophy, of free will and human kindness, can still inspire.
A word of warning for Powerhouse Theatre patrons: opening night the theater’s outside lights were mostly not working, and the building, a 1910 electric station, is hard to find in the dark. It is the middle of its block on the west side of the street, with no sign or banner that can be seen from the street to mark its location. Second Street changes it’s name to Hampton Ave. at Rose Ave, just south of the theater. Be prepared for a little exploration. It is worth it.
More reviews and article by John Farrell can be found at http://byjohnfarrell.typepad.com/