Monday, August 06, 2007
Zorro in Hell
We’ve been fans of the Latino theater troupe Culture Clash since we saw their play “Bowl of Beings” in San Diego almost 20 years ago. Their humor is often irreverent, but always poignant and timely. Their last two plays, “Chavez Ravine” and “Water and Power,” did an especially terrific job of poking holes in the dark underbelly of L.A. politics. As soon as their latest play “Zorro in Hell” opened a couple of weeks ago, I got on the phone and ordered tickets.
The play is appearing at the Ricardo Montalban theater on Vine St. in Hollywood. Never quite as glamorous as the nearby Pantages, the theater—formerly called the Huntington Hartford and then the Doolittle—was saved from the wrecking ball in 1999 by the Ricardo Montalban Foundation in hopes of creating a venue for aspiring Hispanic actors. Although this potential still hasn't been truly realized, the building itself has a colorful history. I remember seeing “Equus” there when I was in college—it was the first time I had ever seen a completely naked man in person! Much more recently, the theater served as the backdrop for a Progressive Democrats fundraiser, which Tim, Karen and I attended during the 2004 presidential election. The star-studded event featured a reading of Tony Kushner’s “Only We Who Guard the Mystery Shall Be Unhappy,” a satirical work-in-progress about Laura Bush (played by Sally Field). Lots of lefty celebrities in the audience—we were in our glory.
Although not as exciting as Kushner, the play Friday night was nonetheless fun as a picture of Che Guevara, donning a Zorro mask, set the tone. The play focused on a “pocho” (non-Spanish-speaking Latino) playwright who, through a series of humorous hallucinations, gets in touch with his inner “Zorro.” (A glossary in the playbill translated key Spanish phrases for the gringos in the audience!) The play's message: it’s time to take back California from the Imperialist pigs. OK, so it wasn’t very subtle. But we did note the irony of staging an agitprop performance across the street from the future site of an opulent W Hotel currently under construction. In fact, nightshift bulldozers greeted us loudly as we left the sanctity of the theater. I’ve complained before about the encroaching gentrification of Hollywood, but maybe Culture Clash is right. It’s time we all become Zorro-istas and demand that the craziness stop. Just how much development can Los Angeles stand anyway? Que vive El Zorro!