The legend of the dashing, swashbuckling hero that is Zorro has entranced the world since he first donned a black mask in a 1919 pulp novel, through his chandelier-swinging incarnations on film with Douglas Fairbanks (swoon!) and George Hamilton and two by the team of Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, to countless TV and radio serials, comics and even books by the likes of Isabel Allende. And that’s just in the United States. But this week, a rare play version will premiere in the very region that the origin story takes place.
Onstage in San Juan Capistrano’s Historic Town Center Park starting Friday, The Curse of Capistrano will bring you Zorro in all his caped, foxy glory. Adapted by two Orange County playwrights, Kyle Seitz and Dan Blackley (also the director), the play is being presented by Camino Real Playhouse instead of the usual Shakespeare as the annual outdoor production. Theatergoers still get to arrive early with picnics, blankets and chairs, but this year they’ll watch a play unfold that takes place nearly 200 year ago at locales not far from where they sit.
Blackley got the inspiration to adapt Johnston McCulley’s Zorro novel, which was also called The Curse of Capistrano, during a rehearsal of last summer’s Shakespeare production. “I was waiting for the actors to come out of the Playhouse,” he says. “I was looking at the outdoor stage when the bells of the Mission started ringing. This made me think of one of my favorite novels, The Curse of Capistrano. I realized that this is the perfect setting for Zorro, on this stage, with this town’s cultural and historical background. Where else would you perform The Curse of Capistrano if not in San Juan Capistrano?”
The producers leapt at the idea. And they hope to bring in as many people of all ages as possible by making tickets affordable ($15 for individuals, $40 for families up to five people) and providing an interactive preshow: beginning at 7 p.m., a half-hour before the show starts, weapons champs James and Leslie Leone will demonstrate some very Zorro-esque skills with a bullwhip, and then kids can get onstage to perform sword play after some training. All the fight choreography for the production is by Academy of Theatrical Combat, which has designed action sequences for such films as Master and Commander and Hook. If battles don’t lure you, the flamenco artists might. Triniti Rowe, in the role of Flamenco Dancer, performs to the live music of pro flamenco guitarist Walter Molina.
The most alluring draw to the production may be the political intrigue and Zorro’s secret identity in the Californio days “when romance and rapiers rules old California,” as an old book jacket proclaims about The Curse of Capistrano. Only seeing the show will answer whether the Fox is up to the task of slicing out the corruption in the haciendas and mansions of Old San Juan. Maybe he can then turn his attention to Capistrano City Hall?
Lisa Black proofreads the dead-tree edition of the Weekly, and writes culture stories for her column Paint It Black.