An Interview with Octavio Solis
by Octavio Solis
Playwright Octavio Solis’s Quixote Nuevo arrives at South Coast Repertory with previews from September 30 through October 5. Opening night is October 6, with regular performances through October 28. We find SCR’s synopsis of the play compelling, so reproduce it here: “a modern take on Don Quixote bursting with imagination and Tejano music. The valiant knight—a.k.a. Jose Quijano—sets out to find his long-lost love. But nothing is as it seems, he gets lost in his fantasies and the community wrestles with his dangerous reality. This fast-paced, bilingual fable about the joys and perils of being the hero of your own story was proclaimed “revelatory” by the San Francisco Chronicle. SCR is thrilled to welcome back Herbert Siguenza of Culture Clash to play Jose Quijano.”
Brian Robin, SCR’s Director of Media and Public Relations was kind enough to forward our three questions to the acclaimed playwright, which he generously answered. Thanks to both Robin and Solis. Tickets available at https://www.scr.org/
You've had a long relationship with SCR. What has that meant for your career?
South Coast Repertory offered me my very first resident theatre production when they staged Man of the Flesh in 1989. It was mounted on a scale that had seemed hitherto impossible to me. I was trained at the Dallas Theater Center and worked with small scrappy companies in Texas, but this production firmly placed me on the national map. The show was given all the appurtenances we asked for and was extremely well-reviewed. But more than that, I was treated by the company and its staff as someone who merited the respect of a writer of significance. That was big for me. Since then, the Artistic Team has consistently looked to me for more stories to relate.
A blurb for the production offers "But nothing is as it seems, he gets lost in his fantasies and the community wrestles with his dangerous reality.” The play premiered in 2018, mid-Trump. How much of our hero’s own reality and our own political reality is today reflected or amplified or resonant?
Depicting Quixote’s adventures within the context of the political strife of that time was unavoidable, especially since the play was set along the Mexican border. All the negativity regarding undocumented peoples required some pushback and it came, but not in the way it was expected. My Quixote stands for all oppressed people from the moment he is “knighted," pledging "to protect the rights of the innocent, the weak, the infirm and the agéd; to defend the poor from malice and injustice, to stand against those inflicting pain and cruelty on the less fortunate, to fight for the unemployed, the uninsured, the undocumented; all in the name of Dulcinea!” His windmill are the monoliths of Border Security, and his personal demons are wrought from his own failure to honor his own pledge. The issues around our border are even more relevant today, but like it or not, they’ve always been part of our cultural identity.
The upcoming SCR production's casting of legendary Culture Clash co-founder Herbert Siguenza as lead certainly messages shared themes, politics, and artistic worldview in a tradition, i.e. Culture Clash, El Teatro Campesino. What other influences or inspirations or context would you like Citric Acid readers to be aware of?
I am proud to have Herbert in this work, because the Culture Clash aesthetic has long been an inspiration for me, and my work with El Teatro Campesino comes full circle with the casting of Lakin Valdez in my play. But there’s also some of the mad work of Guillermo Gomez-Peña running through this work. His incredible word-play and visual collage work have informed this play in a deep way. The Mexican boleros of my father’s era, the songs of Pedro Infante, Javier Solis and others, are also present through some aspects of the play. But ultimately, Cervantes’ novel infuses the language and characters of my play in a way that feels truer to the spirit of his book than if I had written a more faithful adaptation.
Octavio Solis is an award-winning American playwright and director whose plays have been produced at theaters and small companies across the United States. He has written over 25 plays, including his most famous works: Lydia, Santos & Santos and Man of the Flesh. His collection Retablos: Stories From a Life Lived Along the Border was published by City Lights Books in 2018.