Zorro is back – dressed all in black, sword at the ready to defend the weak. But there’s a twist. “It’s a Zorro for today,” said Eleanor Holdridge. “This is a grown-up, darker version. We wanted this play to be for Zorro what “The Dark Knight” is to Batman.”
Holdridge co-wrote the play with Janet Allard and is directing it at Constellation Theatre.
Writing a hero with a dark side, a heroine who’s strong willed, and a sympathetic foe
“We wanted our Zorro to still be entertaining and fun.” But the authors wanted to find more depth as well. “To me if it were just glib with a lot of sword play, why would we care?”
Holdridge has loved Zorro since childhood and was familiar with many of the film and television versions. But it was the original pulp stories that inspired her to create a stage version.
Writer Johnston McCulley introduced Zorro in a pulp serial, “The Curse of Capistrano,” in 1919. The next year, silent film star Douglas Fairbanks was starring in “The Mark of Zorro,” the masked swordsman’s first movie and a legend was born. Numerous film and television adaptations of Zorro’s adventures have followed.
In the original stories, Zorro appears ready-made for protecting the weak and down-trodden with his trusty sword and lighting fast horse. Holdridge asked herself ‘What if we had a coming of age story, showing the origin of Zorro?’
The duality of the hero and his alter ego also appealed to her. “He has to put on a mask as Zorro, but he also has to put on a mask as Diego.”
Holridge, who runs the directing program at Catholic University of America and has directed extensively in regional theatres, knew she wanted to collaborate with a writer to shape her vision for a new Zorro. She had worked with playwright Janet Allard (Pool Boy, Vrooommm!: A NASComedy, Untold Crimes of Insomniacs) during their graduate days at Yale. “She has a witty style and I thought she would be perfect for this play.”
For their Zorro, the women looked at dialogue from the original stories but went beyond the simplicity of the dime novels. They created back stories for characters and formed new interpretations: a strong-willed, love-interest in Lolita, and even a more sympathetic villain in Captain Ramon. “We wanted Lolita to be more than just a prize two men fight for and we worked hard to come up with an explanation why Ramon is the perfect foil for Diego,” said Holridge.
Traditionally, Diego returns home from university to find his family in turmoil and social unrest in 1820s Los Angeles. His family has status and wealth, but many others do not. He decides to become a champion of the people and appears as Zorro.
“We wanted to make Zorro richer than the two dimensional pulp stories and offer a hero we could be inspired by and see ourselves in.” The new Zorro shows a darker side of Diego. “After righting wrongs as Zorro, he becomes addicted to being in the mask. He gets caught up in being Zorro and begins losing the Diego part of himself.”
“He has to discover how to reconcile both sides of the mask. He needs to discover how he can love Lolita or how she can love him if he is hiding behind a mask.”
Despite the darker overtones, fans of Zorro will still be pleased, according to Danny Gavigan, who plays the dual roles of Diego and Zorro. “It’s the perfect blend of romance, swashbuckling, and politics. I think people will be surprised and drawn in.”
“Eleanor and Janet have created their own, unique Zorro that’s more complex and personal. I really think people are going to connect to it in a new way.”
Closes February 17, 2013
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Gavigan, seen earlier this season in Round House Theatre’s production of Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, feels a sense of responsibility in taking on such a famous role. “I want to bring my own thing to it but I also want to please those lifelong fans of the series.”
Gavigan said the intimacy of the Source Theatre will bring the audience up close to the action and there are numerous fight sequences. “There is plenty of action and sword play and some winks to the Zorro’s of old,” he said.
The thrill and excitement of playing Zorro is not lost on Gavigan. “It’s like a boyhood fantasy of mine to become Batman. I look at Zorro as the grandfather of Batman. So it’s like a childhood dream come true.”
Holdridge said Gavigan was a perfect match for Zorro. Last season, she directed him at Round House where he played three distinct characters in Double Indemnity. “He is such a transformational actor, intelligent and is a great collaborator,” she said it made sense to cast him as a man who has to play the bookish Diego and the dashing Zorro. “Of course, he looks like a hero, too,” she chuckled about the 6 foot 3 inch leading man. “He is handsome, tall and dark.”
For all things “Zorro” – pulp origins, information on the movie versions, film clips, and historical perspective – go here.