As any fan of Fifty Shades of Grey will tell you, chicks dig guys in black masks.
Before Christian Grey, the Dark Knight and other masked morsels, there was Zorro, who also had a way with a sword and a whip, no double-entendres intended. First appearing in 1919 in the pulp-fiction tale The Curse of Capistrano, Zorro’s combination of derring-do and social conscience has captured the hirsute imagination of men and made women swoon.
Now the caped crusader slinks his way to the stage in the intermittently entertaining Zorro, Constellation Theatre Company’s world premiere production written in high purplish prose style by Janet Allard and Eleanor Holdridge and directed with potboiler panache by Miss Holdridge.
In case your knowledge of California history is limited to the Okies and the founding of Tinsel Town, Zorro takes place in the 1820s, when the Mission-era colony was California was part of Mexico, a land held seige by strong-armed governors. The cabelleros, wealthy land owners, struggled to hold onto their power and nobility while the poor just kept getting poorer and the missions were being threatened by encroaching secularization. This setting is realized by A.J. Guban’s Spanish-style set that suggests a Mission church, a Mexican courtyard, and a handsome manor house. The costumes by Kentra Rai bring the world of the play to vivid life, from the fancifully embellished garb of the military men, the bright silk sashes and vests sported by the cabelleros and the bold floral prints and lace-bodiced dresses worn by the noble ladies.
Into this roiling stew jumps Zorro (Danny Gavigan), whose alter ego Diego is the bookish son of lordly cabellero Don Alejandro de la Vega (Jim Jorgensen). Don Alejandro calls his son back from university in Spain to wheedle him into the image of the son he wants him to be — macho, married and Machavellian.
A disappointment to his demanding father, Diego would rather read stories of daring adventures than participate in them. However, when he witnesses the unfair punishment of his boyhood priest Fray Felipe (Michael Kramer) by the Governor’s (Oscar Ceville) minions Captain Ramon (Andres Talero) and Sargent Gonzales (Carlos Saldana), Diego’s sense of righteousness is awakened and he transforms himself in the “avenging angel” known as Zorro.
Along with the social justice swashbuckling, there is plenty of romance, as Zorro captures the heart of Lolita (Stephanie LaVardera), the bride chosen for him by his father as a deft political move, a feisty young woman who dismisses Diego as a worthy suitor. You can see why Zorro makes Lolita’s pulse quicken–as played with cheek and bravura by Mr. Gavigan, Zorro is a combination of anarchic boldness and classic heroics. In disguise, Zorro displays humor and canniness, which Mr. Gavigan extends into his portrayal of Diego as an affected fop who toys with the emotions and patience of everyone he encounters. The glint of humor is enhanced by such touches as Zorro’s swordplay always accompanied by the sound of flamenco clapping and sometimes thunder and lightning. Mr. Saldana’s portrayal of the ultimate pragmatist Gonzales also adds to the send-up motif.
Closes February 17, 2013
Constellation Theatre Company
1835 14th Street, NW
1 hour, 45 minutes without intermission
Thursdays thru Sundays
Zorro’s counterpoint is the overly dutiful and somber Captain Ramos, who seems at first a serial baddie until Mr. Talero’s affecting performance begins to grow on you as you discover the sense of shame and past resentment that fuels many of his actions. However, the play’s theme of youth breaking free from their fathers’ sway and becoming their own people with their own sense of purpose is never fully developed and often clashes with the humorous touches and the often dippy love triangle. And that fault may lie with Miss LaVardera’s portrayal of Lolita, which is uninteresting to the point where you wonder why Zorro and Captain Ramos are fighting so hard for her hand and rapturously singing her praises. They speak of the fire in her eyes, but there is none, and when the scene is not concentrating on her, you can see her mentally checking out and biding her time.
It seems that Zorro is trying to do too many things at once and might have been stronger if it stuck to one idea, perhaps a full-on action adventure with a scintilla of wit. But then the swordplay would have to take front and center and for the most part it is uninspiring, save for an exciting three-way duel that comes near the end.
“Who is that masked man?” a character asks in Zorro. Who indeed, the playwrights may need to ask themselves.
Zorro by Janet Allard and Eleanor Holdridge . Directed by Eleanor Holdridge . Featuring Danny Gavigan, Andrés Talero, Jim Jorgensen, Michael Kramer, Carlos Juan Gonzalez, Vanessa Bradchulis, Oscar Ceville, Stephanie LaVardera, and Carlos Saldaña. Production team: Kendra Rai (Costumes), A.J. Guban (Set), Nancy Schertler (Lighting), composers Mariano Vales and Behzad Habibzai, who is also credited for sound design. Produced by Constellation Theatre Company. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard