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FACES & VOICES
To Dream and Keep Dreaming: A Journey to the Journey Errant
By Hannah Hessel Ratner
Since its first publication Don Quixote has inspired readers to dream of their own quests. It’s no surprise that the word “quixotic” has entered the popular lexicon as an idealistic striving towards a potentially unrealistic and impractical goal.
Throughout the centuries many have seen elements of their own life in this man who gives his all despite the odds against him. The story and dreams have been passed down through multiple editions, artist’s variations, and multilingual translations; many of which have found their way onto the shelves of Potomac, Maryland, residents Ralph and Barbara Alterowitz.
Collecting is its own type of quixotic action. There is no end to new editions and the thrill of discovery keeps the collector moving from place to place trying to find the next purchase. For the Alterowitzs, collecting brings an additional thrill: their relationship grew, blossomed, and solidified over visits to used bookstores all over the world. It was on an early date, lunch followed by a trip to the bookstore around the corner, that Ralph spotted an old edition of Don Quixote, leather bound with gilded edges. He bought it and two days later the two returned following another lunch and spotted a second used edition. A collection was born.
In speaking about the collection, Ralph keeps returning to the idea of love. “It’s almost like another love,” he shares and later describes it as “an insatiable love.” Ralph continues talking about the adventures the two of them have shared thanks to the collection: staying in a stranger’s 12th-century townhouse in France, seeing the Berlin Wall dismantled, and now showcasing their collection during the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s run of Man of La Mancha.
The musical is only one of a number of works of art inspired by Cervantes’ epic tale. Some even believe that Cardenio, a supposed “lost play” of Shakespeare’s, was inspired by a section of Don Quixote. The characters Quixote and Sancho made an appearance on the Shakespeare Theatre stage in Michael Kahn’s production of Tennessee William’s Camino Real. On other stages around the world Don Quixotes have danced choreography by Alexander Gorsky or George Balanchine. He’s appeared in operas and in songs by popular artists ranging from the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies to Coldplay, and the alternative band They Might Be Giants was named, in part, for a reference to Don Quixote mistaking windmills for giants.
The story of Don Quixote was first seen on film as early as 1906 in a French short. Every decade since has reimaged the errant knight for film. Some filmed versions have become prominent in their inability to reach audiences. Orson Wells famously directed an unfinished version over decades, which was later edited and released by Spanish director Jesus Franco. Director Terry Gilliam also famously failed at making an adaption, which was later turned into the documentary Lost in La Mancha—supposedly he continues to pursue his dream—and The Man Who Killed Don Quixote featuring John Hurt will be released in 2016.
The 1965 musical Man of La Mancha was successful in reviving Cervantes’ intentions for a modern audience. Accompanied by this collection, on display in the Gift Store and Orchestra Lobby at Sidney Harman Hall, audiences are able to witness firsthand centuries of inspiration derived by Cervantes’ enduring characters. Included in the exhibit, merely a fraction of the Alterowitz’s collection, are editions written in languages from Swedish to Thai, editions as old as 1792 and as recent as the past decade, and examples of illustrations by artists ranging from Salvador Dali to Gustave Doré. Also included are statues, needlepoint, a chess set, and one handmade Don Quixote helmet.
The Alterowitz’s shelves may be a little empty during the production’s run, but sharing their passion for the story is part of their love of collecting. Barbara explains it as a “focal point” for conversations. “You meet people in a different way, it opens up a conversation with other people about their dreams, their ideals…you can have much more meaningful
conversations.” Audience members will have the opportunity to see how Quixote and Sancho have been envisioned through multiple eyes as they think about their own impossible dreams.
Though, or perhaps because, the collection will never be complete, Ralph and Barbara will keep exploring the world with a Quixotesque frame. “You have an objective for as long as you’re alive and it keeps you alive…you’re always looking for the next step.”
Hannah Hessel Ratner, STC’s Audience Enrichment Manager, is in her fourth season
at STC and holds an MFA in dramaturgy from Columbia University.
Man of La Mancha plays Sidney Harman Hall through April 26.