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Young lead actor leaves his mark in zesty 'Zorro'
This show has been remounted through Nov. 23 at Theatre Building Chicago, 1225 W. Belmont Ave.; $30, 773-327-5252 and www.theatrebuildingchicago.org. This is the review from the spring production.
The joint has barely enough room to swing a rapier. And it could never have accommodated the egos, spittle or fiscal demands of Tyrone Power or Douglas Fairbanks. But when it comes to swashbuckling literary adaptations, Lifeline Theatre has the corner on the retro market.
Even by Lifeline's lofty standards for pulpy, old-fashioned theatrical amusement, "The Mark of Zorro" is an uncommonly good time for anybody older than 10.Created by Johnston McCulley in 1919, this fictional masked avenger of old Spanish California is a combination of Robin Hood, Superman and the Zapatistas. No wonder Hollywood and television were early converts to the charms of the so-called "Curse of the Capistrano" -- and the prolific McCulley obliged by penning more than 60 Zorro stories.
For this new live "Mark," Katie McLean has penned an original adaptation of the 1920 novel, wherein Senor Z wages war against an oppressive governor and his various brutish henchmen. Zorro has his Clark Kent side.
In his quieter moments, he masquerades as the foppish scion of a wealthy ranchero, only to burst into life when he dons his signature black mask.
The secret weapon in Dorothy Milne's production is a young actor named James Elly, who manages to convince as both fop and superhero.
Elly isn't offstage for more than a matter of seconds all night long -- and he has to survive more sword fights than even the most accomplished Shakespearean. It's a killer performance -- literally and righteously -- and it charms the audience.
And there's a whole lot more to admire.
Milne and McLean get the tone exactly right -- firmly tongue-in-cheek but sufficiently respectful of the adventure tradition that even the most cynical adolescent in the audience would be able to cling on to some sense of romantic decorum.
And even though the stage is tiny, Alan Donahue has built an amazingly inventive set that allows Zorro to repel all borders from rooftops, walls, windows and horses.
In one spectacular coup de theater, Elly engages in a gloriously entertaining sword fight while swinging happily from a chandelier.
Zorro eventually woos his love, Lolita, of course, played by the charming Rosa de Guindos, a genuine Spaniard to boot. The show would probably have been even better with a few minutes off the running time.
And don't show up expecting profound literature or subtle drama -- this is the stuff of over-ripe accents, grand gestures and exuberant theatricality.
But for a little box by the "L" tracks to contain 13 performers all demonstrably dedicated to the unpretentious, can-do provision of such timeless pleasures?
Only in this town, folks.