BWW Review: ZORRO: FAMILY CODE Slays at Alberta Theatre Projects
Zorro is, arguably, the first superhero to ever enter the public realm of consciousness. He is the original swashbuckling hero who always does the right thing and adheres to a personal code that drives him to help those in need, and never kill anyone who does wrong. His tales - the hundreds that have been penned throughout the years - have the same familiar things: the black mask to hide his face, the signature "Z" slashed across the surface, and the overwhelming balance of family and duty. Alberta Theatre Projects has followed in the footsteps of the great Zorro adventures that came before, and asked the question: what next?
Zorro: Family Code is ATP's Family-Oriented Holiday-Time production written by Rebecca Northan, Bruce Horak, and Christian Goutsis. It tells the story of Diego De La Vega (who wears the mask of Zorro) who brings his two children back to Spain after the death of their wife, unwittingly pursued by his arch nemesis Capitán Juan Ramon who has returned to their home town in order to regain the power he lost in California. Now both getting on in years, an imposter has appeared in their quaint village who doesn't seem to be following Zorro's code. There's sword fighting, family drama, and more than a few laughs to be had in this two-hour production in the thrust configuration of the Marth Cohen Theatre.ATP has had this thrust stage for their past three productions and have promised to continue mixing things up and using the space to their full advantage. What I'm loving about this design is that it requires the actors, directors and entire design team to use every part of the theatre. Actors are facing all directions, climbing up and down stairs, running through the audience, creating an immersive theatre experience. And with constant chase scenes and the choice to move about the room, Zorro was made for this stage - literally and figuratively.
Rebecca Northan's writing and direction were well suited for this genre. Though she is known across Canada for her skills in improvisation, her quick wit and willingness to play has created a fun and funny production for everyone to enjoy. There's jokes for the young children, parents, adults, men, women, theatre-people, and there is something so magical in the domino effect of a theatre full of engaged patrons - especially the children. When children laugh, the people around them laugh with them and the room feels lighter. I'm not a big fan of "bits" or the idea of "playing for laughs" but I didn't find that very often. Yes there are bits and yes there is a touch of campiness at times but there's also a layer of genuine emotion, and tactics, and conversation which kept the whole production grounded in reality. It was like being given permission to laugh at the ridiculous parts. I could watch this production again and still laugh (and I likely will).
The first thing I said at intermission was "oh my gosh, did you look at that set?!" I was very much in awe and in love with Narda McCarroll's set design (along with her lighting design for the production). The set pieces seemed to float in from all sides to create the scene, including a few pieces that come up from the floor and became my favourite thing to watch. All parts of the stage were utilized to tell the story and while there were several pieces that often went into creating the scene (flower pots, bottles, barrels etc.) the transitions never felt like we were waiting to start. There was always something to watch. I really appreciate the Assistant Stage Manager Emma Brager who donned a costume to perform the set changes with the cast. My hat's off to you.
And what an incredibly talent cast, well suited for their respective roles. Mabelle Carvajal plays the inn keeper Maria Murrieta and center of a love triangle between Capitán Ramon and Diego De La Vega. I would have loved to see more of Maria's journey because she seemed like everyone's favourite aunt who also had a secret past. There was a calm fierceness about her that said "I could kick your ass if I wanted to - and I will - but I'm choosing love instead." How could you not want more of that?
Natasha Strickey's performance of Isadora De La Vega, Diego defiant daughter grieving the loss of her mother, carried a similar fierceness to it, except we are treated to much of her story. Natasha did an excellent job of toeing the line between angry teenager and fierce warrior, acting out of anger but still understanding that her choices were not always the right ones. Constantly at odds with her father, I felt the familial bond that was at risk of tearing because of their secrets.
Her little brother Miguel, played by Nine-year-old Lucian-River Mirage Chauhan carried the same intensity and desire to do what's right and sometimes use a sword to do that. His character is very much the embodiment of a child's idea of justice and adventure, and I saw that clearly. I know I missed some of his jokes because he was speaking very quickly but generally, I was enchanted by his performance.
The children's father, the mask of Zorro, the aging vigilante Don Diego De La Vega, is played by the hilarious Derek Flores. His gravely voice and penchant for down to earth comedy made him perfect for the role. He was charming, his fights were clean but showed his character's age, and he created a man who was all things to all people. Subservient to some, defiant and cocky to others, vulnerable to the spirit of his wife and mentor, but stern and confused with his children. I loved the layers that he brought to this character, and I really enjoy the contrast between him and his arch rival: Capitán Juan Ramon.
Tyrell Crews is known for his charming, quick and exaggerated comedy. He plays a man who carries an air of arrogance and doesn't realize how stupid he actually is (I mean, Zorro practically reveals his secret identity several times and he still doesn't get it). You naturally want to laugh at him and Tyrell makes it easy. His Ramon is a charming buffoon and an excellent prop for physical comedy. He and his sidekick brought more of the children's slapstick comedy than the actual child in the show.
Kevin Corey takes on a few roles in the show: most notably the stupidly funny Sergeant Pedro Gonzales, who doesn't seem to quite catch on to the situation around him and still manages to come up with the best ideas. Kevin's use of physical comedy and a sweet smile made him an instant audience favourite. With all the different types of comedy in the show, I think Ramon and Gonzales' brand was the easiest to laugh at every time. The two of them had a great back-and-forth energy which they shared with the audience.
No production of Zorro would be complete without a few sword fights, cleverly choreographed by Karl Sine and assisted by Brianna Johnston. There was so much fighting and physicality in the show and I never once felt bored or distracted or overwhelmed by how often the actors had their swords or broomsticks or ropes out. I was glad to see the actors maintained the same energy and precision from start to finish - there is a lot of fighting in this production.
I had a lot of fun watching this show; I think it had the perfect balance between drama, and adventure, and comedy. The promise that Rebecca Northan made to delivery a story about the swashbuckling hero was absolutely met in my eyes. Come to ATP expecting to have a fun night out with your entire family and you will not be disappointed.
Zorro: Family Code will be playing at the Martha Cohen Theatre until December 30th. Tickets can be purchased at www.atplive.com or by calling 403.294.7402.