Friday, January 18, 2013

Zorro: One Sharp Blade

Danny Gavigan and Stephanie LaVardera in Zorro
 (Photo: Andrew Propp)

Move over Douglas Fairbanks and George Hamilton (yes, I loved Zorro, the Gay Blade... sue me) there's a new masked swashbuckler in your midst... and his name is Danny Gavigan. A familiar face in the local theatre scene (Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, Pride and Prejudice) Gavigan makes a near-perfect Zorro, lending charm, humor and a most-welcome physical presence to Johnston McCulley's almost 100 year-old superhero. Aided by a superb cast and artful direction, Eleanor Holdridge's Zorro may wind up as the best play of 2013.

Getting in to see Zorro was no picnic: After picking up my ticket from a very friendly ticket attendant, I had to wait 30 minutes outside the theatre. Outside? Yup. The small lobby was already packed with folks waiting to find a general admission seat, and 8:30 (the show's supposed start time) came and went before the audience was seated. My wait was eased somewhat by an impromptu pizza slice break at next door's Manny & Olga's; allowing me to avoid a random homeless guy visiting the crowded lobby several times to beg for money. Can you imagine that at the Kennedy Center? And by that, I'm referring to both the homeless dude and the pizza!

Once inside, all was forgiven. For starters, the stage is in and around the audience... giving guests the unique perspective of being in the play themselves. It sure beats sitting in some stuffy orchestra section elsewhere, by a country mile. Set design was minimal but effective: It didn't take long to feel transported back in time to mid-19th century Alta California. Costumes were equally effective and gorgeous.

January 17th preview at the Source Theatre

As for the story, who doesn't love Zorro? I like Batman, Spider-Man and Superman as much as the next guy; but there's something magical about the simplicity of Zorro. Take away the mask & the sword; and all you're left with is a man and his convictions (sorry kids, no radioactive spiders here.) Zorro appeals to almost everyone (trust me, I'm not the biggest fan of theater) and it takes no time at all to grasp the plot. Son returns home from college. Dad pushes arranged marriage. Son finds tyranny all around; decides to do something it, dons a mask and kicks butt.

Gavigan is wonderful as Zorro's alter-ego Don Diego de la Vega, displaying sheepish humility when needed... and assertive passion once he becomes Zorro. At 6'3, Gavigan not only looks believable as Zorro; he becomes him. Toss in excellent projection (especially when rousing the audience towards the end) and an almost Borat-like ability to make you laugh, and you have the makings of a star. He's especially hysterical when trying to win over the lovely Lolita (Stephanie LaVardera) as Don Diego. Talk about what not to do. Zorro is much better at it, 'It's the wooing that gives spice to romance.'

LaVardera is plenty spicy on her own, and proves more than capable of handling Don Diego, Zorro or Captain Ramon (played brilliantly by Andrés Talero.) The rest of the cast are great as well, especially Vanessa Bradchulis and Carlos Gonzalez as Lolita's parents. Bradchulis shines in double duty as a comely barmaid; and Gonzalez delivers the goods as a disreputable hides dealer who confronts Zorro early on with, 'What's up with the mask?' Gonzalez's look of astonishment afterwards is reason enough to attend the play.

Good lighting and ever-improving sword fights round out an impressive package. Two nights away from its official opening (last night's show was a pay-what-you-can preview) I noticed less than a handful of miscues. If Zorro can make a believer out of me, it must be special indeed. Zorro continues at the Constellation Theatre Company's Source at 1835 14th Street, NW through February 17th. To purchase tickets or get more information, click here.

Grade: A-