Likable listening: NPR's 'Don Quixote'series

An armored knight-errant, beaten in battle by the deadly ''arms'' of a windmill, creates a most splendid clatter. To backtrack a bit, we're traveling via National Public Radio, with that most chivalrous of heroes, Don Quixote, and his sidekick, Sancho Panza. Quixote has sighted some windmills he imagines to be giants - fearsome creatures that nonetheless must be met in combat.

The debacle leaves Quixote battered, but with his devotion to righting wrongs through knightly valor undiminished.

NPR's series of six half-hour programs, ''Don Quixote,'' based on the 17 th-century Cervantes book - and its ethics of the absurd - is likable listening. While severely abbreviating and slightly remolding the story, this series gives a satisfying sample of the hero's misadventures.

Robustly acted by Seattle's Globe Radio Repertory, colorfully staged with convincing sounds of the Spanish countryside, and smoothly abetted by lovely, albeit predictable music, the programs are a good example of how radio can tell a story.

While the actors put much personality into their voices, the programs do require careful listening. When things reach a cacophony of confusion - as they often do - the question can arise, ''exactly who is yelling what ?''

These tales are at once amusing and saddening. The difficulties Quixote willingly wades into are broadly slapstick, perhaps even cartoonlike, in that while Quixote and the other characters use swords and other quite dangerous weapons, no one gets seriously hurt. It's a chuckle to hear Quixote getting so many others involved in his illusion, but there's also a dark futility to his visions of honor, grandeur, and greatness.

(Check local listings or phone your NPR station for the ''Don Quixote'' schedule.)

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