Visble Fictions an international company based in the UK, is presenting a limited run of a marvelous children’s show, The Mark of Zorro, at the New Victory Theater. This fast-paced highly inventive production is directed by company Artistic Director Douglas Irvine and performed by a talented cast of three: Denise Hoey who plays the young Zorro and then Isabella, the governor’s daughter; Tim Settle who primarily plays the governor and the villain, Esteban; and Neil Thomas who mostly plays the hero Zorro and his alter ego Diego. In true story theatre style, all three serve as narrator at various points in the proceedings. It’s a perfect method for telling a fun tale to a young audience, for most every child can relate to being told a story by someone who also acts out various characters.
Playwright Davey Anderson has adapted the works of early 20th century writer Johnston McCulley, who created the masked avenger as a sort of early 1800’s Spanish American Robin Hood, a vigilante who champions the poor and downtrodden by night but who lives as a nobleman, Don Diego de la Vega, by day. Many adults may remember various late 20th Century versions of McCulley’s yarn, including the movies featuring Catherine Zeta Jones, Antonio Banderas and Anthony Hopkins, and even the earlier TV show starring Guy Williams. Those resonances are fun for the parents, but the “mark” of Anderson’s version is that it stands alone as excellent entertainment.
And entertaining it is, judging by the reactions from the younger audience members surrounding this reviewer. They were rapt. At the outset it wasn’t clear whether the young audience would be captured, let alone enraptured. We saw basically a bare stage with what looked like a newspaper kiosk onstage. The three actors then came out and basically said they were going to tell us the story of Zorro. Okay, but in this age of attention deficit swift sound bites how would that play? Well, with brilliant simplicity, actually. Brilliant because these three really do what they say they are setting out to do: they tell us a story. And they do so using a tried and true tale telling methodology every child can relate to. These ways and means encompass role playing, puppetry, play acting and pretend that all kids use when at play. Hoey, Settle and Thomas wear the story of Zorro like a delicious coat of make believe using styles we all have used as kids.
Here is where designer Robin Peoples comes to the fore, for this aforementioned newspaper kiosk turns into a remarkable magic box with seemingly inexhaustible incarnations of set pieces, settings and storybook paraphernalia. It is magical to watch these talented actors morph from enacting Zorro’s characters themselves to showing what happens using small cutout figures on cutout versions of a larger setting, just like kids personifying toys at play. These are seamless ingenious transitions that completely hold our interest.
The sound design essentially embellishes the fantasy. Underscored music by composer David Trouton seems just perfect for the show and the sound effects, unaccredited, are important too. Jesse Brettle’s costumes and Simon Wilkinson’s lighting also work well in collaboration for the whole.
The one caveat for me is the swordplay. It was wonderful to have the sword fighting sequences between Zorro and Esteban, which had a nice Prisoner of Zenda swashbuckling feel to them (well, a “Zorro” feel, really). But the actual cuts, thrusts and parries were rudimentary and executed only competently with little real panache. However, this is from a reviewer who is a fight choreographer. I expect that the audiences are not that picky. Heck, they weren’t on the night I saw it – they loved it!
So, go, and bring the kids. You all will all have a great time. The Mark of Zorro is clever, energetic, humorous and engrossing storytelling, especially for the younger set.