‘Zorro’ at Constellation Theatre Company by Jennifer Perry

THREE AND A HALF STARS
The story of Zorro has long been the source material for many a creative endeavor. Following in the footsteps of many that have come before them, Janet Allard and Eleanor Holdridge have examined this classic story with a slightly different lens. This incantation of Zorro, now receiving its world premiere at Constellation Theatre Company, considers this classic story more as a coming of age tale – the story of a young man trying to make his way in the world and be true to himself – than previous incarnations. While the script itself is somewhat problematic, this production boasts some exceptional creativity in terms of fight direction and staging and an incredibly worthy lead actor, Danny Gavigan, in the title role, which ultimately makes it something to see.

Danny Gavigan (Zorro) and  Stephanie LaVardera (Lolita). Photo by Andrew Propp.

Danny Gavigan (Zorro) and Stephanie LaVardera (Lolita). Photo by Andrew Propp.

We meet the bookish and privileged Diego de la Vega (Danny Gavigan) as he returns home from school to his more than comfortable noble family in Alta California, a contested colonial territory of interest to both Mexico and Spain. Witnessing some of the injustices and corrupt actions taking place around him, he takes on the alter ego of Zorro, a masked avenger seeking to rid the area of corruption and improve the quality of life for the most depraved among the population. By day, however, he remains Diego – a young man that’s required by his family to behave in a certain way and meet all of his father’s expectations. As Diego copes with those expectations, so too must he cope with the related trials and tribulations of young love. In fact, this young woman of interest, Lolita Pulido (played by the charming and natural Stephanie LaVardera) finds herself at the center of a love triangle which will ultimately force Diego to choose who he truly wants to be and what he wants to accomplish.

While Allard and Holdridge’s script has all of the components that usually make audiences interested in a show – romance, mystery, searches for justice, family conflict – the problem is simply that there are too many elements at play in this comedic drama (or is it dramatic comedy?) for it to maintain a consistent tone. These shifts, in fact, might leave an audience member with a bit of whiplash. When Diego is ‘Diego’ he’s wimpy, often complaining, and lacks confidence – often outlandishly so to the point where the audience chuckles endlessly. In any scene where Diego is present, it’s all about Diego (which is perhaps a statement in and of itself). In the ‘Zorro-centric’ scenes, the focus is less on who Zorro is as a person and more about what he stands for and what he’s out to accomplish in the greater sense. In these scenes, the themes of good vs. evil receive treatment and the complexities of the socio-political situation are revealed. While they have some comedic elements, the ‘camp’ is not nearly as pervasive as in the ‘Diego-centric’ scenes. The constant change between comedy and drama does not help the playwrights’ cause of explaining how and why Diego becomes Zorro and how the two personas share some characteristics. The gap between the two kinds of scenes is far too wide.

However, there’s also another related problem. More than once we see Diego transform to Zorro and while the overwhelming shift never gets old – if I go by the audience’s reaction to each time it occurs. While Gavigan offers us a flawless and complete transformation – which includes everything from changes in vocal inflections, body movement, attitude, and clothing – one can’t help to think that, by the second time that the transformation occurs, we know where the scene will go and how it will end. Without such suspense, the production loses some of its magic.

This being all said, I certainly give Constellation several kudos for this massive undertaking. First, I more than embrace the idea of finding new ideas in old source material. The desire to find more about who Zorro is as a person and examine how he’s just a young man trying to find his way – like many people in society – is a good one to have. Second, director Eleanor Holdridge has assembled a fine cast and creative team to present this new work.

While Gavigan is clearly the standout here, the rest of the ensemble proves to be more than capable of traversing the line between comedy and drama even if many of their characters are of the stock variety. Their joy at performing the material is quite infectious. Stephanie LaVardera is among a few that deserve special mention. One of the few to maintain a consistent accent throughout the evening and displaying a lovely singing voice, she is appropriately fierce and feminine as Zorro’s love interest. I look forward to seeing more of what she does in the future.

Danny Gavigan (Zorro). Photo by Andrew Propp.

Danny Gavigan (Zorro). Photo by Andrew Propp.

The creativity employed in this production is also noteworthy. Above all, Casey Kaleba’s intricate and thrilling fight choreography is the standout element. Swordfights are, of course, a necessity in any production of Zorro, and Kaleba certainly rises to the occasion. The actors do the choreography justice and execute it with precision and enthusiasm. A.J. Guban’s scenic design is visually stunning and effective in transporting the audience to territory that’s brimming with Spanish and Mexican influences. Constellation has done well to transform its small black box theatre at Source into a playground of sorts for Zorro and his cohorts to use. Kendra Rai’s costumes also highlight these Spanish/Mexican influences and are period appropriate as are Mariano Vales’ musical compositions. Nancy Schertler’s lighting design and Behzad Habibzai’s sound design are minimal, but effective in establishing the sights and sounds of Alta California.

Constellation’s creativity is reason enough to see this production – even if it is not perfect.

Running Time: 1 hour and 45 minutes with no intermission.

Zorro plays through February 17, 2013 at Source Theatre – 1835 14 Street, NW in Washington, DC. For tickets, call 1-800-494-TIXS or purchase them online

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