Theatrical Reviews

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Here's What the Critics Said

about Henry's role as Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, the author of "Don Quixote de La Mancha",  in Harry Cason's "That Certain Cervantes".


Darrow is captivating throughout. (Julio Martinez, Daily Variety)

bulletDarrow projects warmth with his every aspect. (Wenzel Jones, Backstage West)
bulletDarrow makes up a dream cast all by his lonesome. (F. Kathleen Foley, Los Angeles Times)
bulletHenry Darrow delivers a bravura performance as the 16th-century playwright. (Lucille Deview, The Orange County Register)
bulletDarrow creates an indelible Cervantes. (Don Grigware, The Valley Scene Magazine)

Daily Variety Review - 10/8/01 by Julio Martinez

One of the most intriguing literary adventurers in European history is Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547-1616), Spanish-born soldier, tax collector, prisoner, slave and poet, who has reached mythical status as the author of "Don Quixote de La Mancha". This legendary man of letters could find no greater tribute than the portrayal of Emmy Award-winner Henry Darrow ("Santa Barbara", "Resurrection Blvd."). Darrow doesn't just perform the sometimes meandering text of playwright Harry Cason. Under Debra De Liso's inspired guidance, Darrow burrows into the psyche of this complex historical figure who never found true success in his own time. Darrow also displays a wonderfully facile gift for characterization as he embodies the vocal and physical attributes of the many colorful characters who inhabit Cervantes' world, including the fictional Don Quixote, his beloved horse and his ever-faithful servant, Sancho Panza.

Cason's two-acter never settles in any area for too long, almost chaotically changing focus from Cervantes' present-day musings to his reveries of the past. De Liso's economical but insightful staging underscores every aspect of these theme changes, keeping Darrow's Cervantes on track. Her efforts are admirably supported by the synergistic production designs of Dan Smith (sets), Robert Fromer (lights) and Vince R. Gutierrez (sound). Set in 1614, the text covers one day in the life of an aged, impoverished Cervantes who is desperately anticipating the arrival of an emissary to interview him to determine if he's worthy of becoming the resident poet and playwright of the royal court. As he roams about his studio, the often forgetful writer plays devil’s advocate with himself, chiding and cajoling his spirit and his creativity to meet the challenge offered to lift himself and his family out of poverty. Trying to formulate the most impressive but diplomatic opening statement, he says "For a man without prospects there are only three open roads: the sea, the church or the king’s service." It is his distaste at feeling he has to appear non-controversial that sets his spirit reeling through the flamboyant chapters of his past, hoping to better understand himself so he can marshal his internal forces to win over the emissary. Darrow is captivating throughout. The highlight of the first act is Cervantes’ passionate recreation of his military exploits at the monumental Battle of Lopanto (1571), a naval engagement that pitted the combined Christian forces of Europe against the Muslim ships of the Ottoman Turks. There appears to be no limit to his emotional range as he segues from the passionate sounds of battle to his recollections of being imprisoned and enslaved by Algerian pirates to his deeply felt sadness at the death of his brother, killed at the Battle of Flanders. Above all, Darrow’s Cervantes is a man of humor who takes great delight in skewering the villains of his past and present. His vocal caricatures are devastating, especially the lampooning of his hated rival, successful playwright Lope de Vega. Another comic highlight is his re-creation of his embezzlement trial when he served as tax collector for the king. He feels he proved his case magnificently, but he still served 90 days. He readily admits his incarceration proved fortuitous because it offered him the leisure to begin writing the work that would make him immortal. The second act is devoted mostly to the characters from "Quixote", with Darrow making great use of vocal inflection and pantomime to relate the tale of the addled old man who believes, "As a gallant knight I shall travel the land." Darrow infuses his character with a growing confidence and belief in his own worth. By play’s end, an invigorated Cervantes proclaims, "For a man without prospects there are only three open roads: the sea, the church or the world of ideas."

The Orange Country Register Review - 10/7/01 by Lucille Deview

"That Certain Cervantes" couldn’t have arrived on stage at a more propitious time.

The brilliance, the fallibility and the painful insecurity of struggling 16th-century writer icon, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, inspires us to be brave, to go on in the fight for good against evil. He did it by using his talent as a poet, novelist and playwright to challenge cruelty, hypocrisy and narrow vision.

This new play by Harry Cason cleverly intertwines the biography of Cervantes, often called the Spanish Shakespeare, with his most famous character – the sweetly flawed, self-mocking Don Quixote of La Mancha.

Both tilt at windmills with a broom – Cervantes in search of a patron to save himself from the abject poverty that threatens his survival as a writer, and Quixote, the idealist, in a rage against the shabby world of politics and immorality in a world that should be better than it is.

The miracle is that it takes the dazzling acting of only one man to reveal not only the flaws but the grandeur of being human in any age.

Veteran actor Henry Darrow, 68, renders a bravura performance as he plays all the roles in "That Certain Cervantes", having its world premiere at El Portal Circle Theatre in North Hollywood.

The limber, lively Darrow is the epitome of Cervantes’ despair one moment (bumbling, forgetful, confused) and the exalted believer the next (gallant, confident, secure). He illuminates his hero’s history as a student, soldier, slave, prisoner and poet, struggling for acknowledgment of his gifts and some measure of dignity.

Suddenly, without costume changes but with a convincingly different voice and posture, Darrow metamorphoses into his trusty horse, and yet again into his sidekick Sancho, even the village virgin, Marcella.

He toys with the audience, doling out laughter that verges on tears and raising the "theatrical pause" to new heights.

Darrow himself is legendary as an actor and a leader on behalf of Hispanics who, like himself, aspire to memorable roles rich in meaning.

His one-man tour-de-force as Cervantes is a culmination of a career that began when he won a scholarship in his native Puerto Rico to attend the Pasadena Playhouse in 1954. He was the first Hispanic to star in television’s "Zorro & Son"; won an Emmy for his role in the daytime drama "Santa Barbara"; and appeared in 500 episodes of various TV shows.

As a former member of the board of directors of the Screen Actors Guild and an officer in Nosotros, he devoted himself to promoting a more positive Hispanic image in film and television. But Cervantes was his dream role and he worked for years to get it staged.

The production, under the auspices of Espinoza Theatricals, LLC, is expertly directed by Debra De Liso, with a creative team that includes Dan Smith, scenic designer; Robert "Bobby" Fromer, lighting designer; and Vince Gutierrez, sound designer.

The play adds luster to the regional theatre scene and is certain to win honors for a brilliant and memorable performance by Henry Darrow, who seems the very embodiment of the great writer he portrays in "That Certain Cervantes."

Copyright 2001 – The Orange Country Register

The Valley Scene Magazine  - 10/19/01 by Don Grigware

"Man of La Mancha" musicalized one part of Miguel de Cervantes' life with much style and grace, but it relied on a large cast and one very overpowering set to achieve the desired effect. Now an adventuresome playwright named Harry Cason has trusted in the greatness of one Henry Darrow to create Cervantes and a colorful array of his characters - all by himself. With a minimal, but effective set décor by Dan Smith and basic staging by director Debra De Liso, Cason and Darrow at once educate, entertain and enchant in "That Certain Cervantes" at the El Portal Circle Theatre.

This is 17th. century Spain and when the play opens, Cervantes is no longer young, nor is he that admired. One much younger poet Lope de Vega, nicknamed "el loquito", has won the court's favor. An energetic Darrow digs down deep and creates a world-weariness in Cervantes as he faces his most difficult task: to win over the emissary of the king that may or may not grant him patronage as a writer. This is one day in Cervantes' life - and a crucial one. With Darrow at the wheel, Cervantes' indefatigable quest for acceptance drives the play forward , and it never falters.

Cason has cleverly structured the piece by having Cervantes play different sides of himself. A serious and wise Miguel chastises Miguelino, the creative side of his personality. He must not be so frivolous as to expose his subversiveness to the emissary, Count Lemos. If he expects the king to sponsor him, he must compromise his artistry, give in to the royal court's demands and lie. Of course, the creative side of Cervantes argues that he will play out his "Don Quixote" truthfully - questionable or not - and make the messenger love it. At times his focus becomes hazy, as he lapses into memories. These are all told through flashbacks, with expert lighting design from Robert "Bobby" Fromer.

A very moving scene with Cervantes as a young, brave soldier occurs at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 where Don of Austria granted freedom to 15,000 Spanish galley slaves. There are also tender remembrances of Miguel and his brother who were once ransomed while in the naval service. His brother once kissed a Jewish girl, a fact one did not readily admit to in the time of the Inquisition, if he valued his life, let alone his career. So should Cervantes be open about it to the emissary? He does not fear emprisonment which he had faced many times before and "it was a fine place for quiet meditation". Like his literary inventions, his mind is a mix of realities and illusions.

Cervantes' own indecisiveness throughout makes his creation of Quixote's craziness more comprehensible. At times, in his reveries, Miguel appears to be losing his mind and admits that he will die soon. Acceptance by the court is still paramount to his vanity even though merely for a short while - especially to sustain his fame for future generations.

Through all of this torment and confusion, Darrow displays a fine sense of humor. He is forever playful, as with Cervantes' maid. He teases her that the room "stinks of clean" and admonishes her for the incorrect choice of wine to be offered the emissary. After playing a female role, he seeks a liquid refreshment and states dryly "cross-dressing is a damn thirsty business".

Most caring of all is the presentation of the "Quixote". Darrow relishes every detail of the manuscript which he carries around onstage and brings to vibrant life a plough-horse who will be the noble charger to the Knight, named Rocinante. He jokes, "Why the long face?", as he caresses the horse's mane and blames its drooping ears and swayed back on the work of the Evil Enchanter. He lovingly creates Dulcinea, the object of Quixote's devotion, and his, beloved friend and companion, Sancho Panza.

Cervantes as Quixote clumsily puts on his broken helmet, grasps his broom for a lance and charges out to fight the enemy that Sancho sees as only windmills. In the end, Quixote describes himself as an old fool on a fool's errand- to bring back the glory of a forgotten world. He may be on a political mission and refers to himself within it as - the last honest man.

Cervantes starts the play by stating that the three roads a man must travel are the Church, the sea and civil service, or service to the king. The third is in question, and at play's end, is changed. The brave nobleman avows his artistic integrity and agrees to travel through the world of ideas. Standing by one's ideals may be expensive, but what isn't? This message still holds the ring of truth.

Cason's odyssey, produced by C. Raul Espinoza, is a marvelous educational tool through which to educate high school students to the world of Cervantes. Such a tour of this production is planned for the spring. It is a fitting tribute to the great, uncompromising writer and a perfect showcase for Henry Darrow. Darrow, with his gleaming white hair and moustache, makes an elegant and dashing Cervantes. He makes all of the other characters appear via adept vocal inflections and using simple props, like a scarf around the neck for Sancho and then on top of the head for a female character. It all works brilliantly! "…Cervantes" is the crowning achievement of Darrow's career and is not to be missed! Five stars.

An interesting footnote: at the curtain call, Darrow pointed out that due to Cervantes' tenacity, the royal court did in fact grant him the patronage he sought for the last two years of his life.

This excerpt is from the program notes for the play. The notes were written by Leo Cabranes-Grant, who teaches at the Department of Spanish and Dramatic Arts at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

"That Certain Cervantes intentionally blurs the margins that separate historical fact from fiction, declaring its debt to the original Don Quijote. But the play also addresses our own desires and dreams, our own fantasies about Cervantes the person and Cervantes the writer. As readers and spectators, we are part of the show, we participate in the process of fashioning his legend, his image. One of the most attractive aspects of Harry Cason's play is that it reflects the "infinite variety" of Don Quijote by asking the actor who plays Cervantes to visit different registers and moods as frequently as the novel does. Watch and enjoy Henry Darrow rising to the occasion. His performance has that certain feeling good shows are made of."


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