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Zorro Rides Again

Zorro in Hell, presented by Culture Clash.

At the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Saturday, March
18.

Reviewed by Carlos Morton

The comedy troupe Culture Clash, currently performing Zorro in
Hell at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, returns to the Bay Area
where the group originated 22 years ago. Zorro, invented in 1919 by
Anglo author Johnston McCulley, was a Spanish folk hero who
defended the Mexican people of California.

It’s ironic that Zorro was always battling a deceitful
foreign-born politician named “El Gobernador.”

The protagonist of this play is a failed sitcom writer
commissioned to write a Zorro play, acted with sardonic wit by
Richard Montoya. He checks into the mysterious Camino Real Inn run
by a 200-year-old woman, played with great exuberance by former San
Francisco Mime Troupe member Sharon Lockwood. There is also a
bellboy dressed like a Spanish Grandee named Don Ringo (master
mimic Herbert Siguenza), who proudly calls himself “the first
Chicano.”

The hotel turns out to be a cultural clash museum where
California history comes to life. The writer learns that the
200-year-old woman not only slept with an assortment of famous
writers (William Faulkner, Eugene O’Neill) but also “dramaturged
the fuck outta” many of their works.

The lady becomes a literary muse who takes us through an
assortment of Zorro movies starring, among others, Douglas
Fairbanks and Tyrone Power. We also meet Mexican Jack, Whiskey
Pete, Joaquin Murrieta (a historical Mexican bandito who inspired
Zorro), a sleepy Mexican named Pancho Jr., a gay Castilian Friar,
and Kyle — a California bear (Ric Salinas) who engages in rough sex
with the protagonist to free him of writer’s block. And all of this
is in the first act!

The second act begins with two chubby boys from the ’50s with
masks and capes, making Z’s on the walls of their suburban minds.
Zorro is a myth that won’t die; there have been recent revivals by
actor Antonio Banderas and writer Isabel Allende, and a new ballet
at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, as well as a stage musical
in London by the Gipsy Kings.

The script could use some dramaturgical editing by the
200-year-old lady (there are too many characters and tangents),
although director Tony Taccone guides us expertly through the
labyrinth of California history. Kudos to Christopher Acebo,
Christal Weatherly, Alexander Nichols, and Robbin Broad for their
dynamic design pastiche.

4•1•1 Zorro in Hell finishes its Berkeley run
on April 18, but opens again in September at the La Jolla
Playhouse.

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