As artistically transcendent as they can be, classical guitar concerts aren’t, as a rule, particularly concept-heavy. Outliers might be dedicated to one composer, or perhaps to a unifying theme. The Los Angeles Guitar Quartet’s (LAGQ) Wednesday night performance at the Lobero, then, was an outlier among outliers, with not only a theme, but a story. That story wasn’t any old folktale either: It was The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote, the gem in the Spanish literary crown; the picaresque owed a debt by all subsequent picaresques. And the storyteller? None other than ex-Python, current Santa Barbara resident, and a man famous for turning up in productions one wouldn’t quite expect him to: John Cleese.
As sure-fire as the production’s mix of more than 30 pieces expertly performed by the LAGQ, a classic comic tale of misdirected virtuousness, and Cleese doing Sancho Panza’s voice might sound, serious pitfalls lie in such an ambitious effort. While adapting a sprawling two-part novel to the less conventional Cleese-backed-by-guitars format is a tall order in itself, compressing it to a brisk 65 minutes seems truly unenviable. Quartet member William Kanengiser has, in the event, crafted an adaptation that efficiently conveys the essence of the delusional knight-errant’s grand journey, while at the same time allowing Cleese the flexibility to deliver it in ways only he can. Quixote purists could no doubt find omissions about which to quibble-a 940-page novel can only be condensed so faithfully-but the product, in its probable capacity to spark viewer interest in the original book, undoubtedly did more good than harm.
By David Bazemore