Culture Clash’s Zorro in Hell
Created, written and performed by Culture Clash—Richard Montoya, Ric Salinas and Herbert Sigüenza
Directed by Tony Taccone
Limited Season · Roda Theatre
March 17–April 16, 2006
Running time: 2 hours, including one 15-minute intermission
Riding out of the pages of pulp fiction, it’s Zorro—like you’ve never seen him before. Following their 2002 hit Culture Clash in AmeriCCa, the missionaries of mayhem called Culture Clash return to Berkeley Rep with the world premiere of their Zorro in Hell. The trio takes on Zorro’s legend to explore homeland security in the Wild West—when Anglo-Americans struggled with Mexican immigration, Indian gambling and a governor born on foreign soil. At long last, it’s a look behind the mask of a mainstream icon invented by an Irish American…Culture Clash style. Watch as “the fox” battles the Hollywood image machine and challenges barriers of class, race and ethnicity to become a hero for the oppressed in every land. Todos somos Zorro!
This play is based upon the works of Johnston McCulley. The underlying rights in and to the property of Zorro are controlled by Zorro Productions, Inc., of Berkeley, California, which has provided Berkeley Repertory Theatre/La Jolla Playhouse with the use of its copyrights and trademarks for the purposes of this production. © 2006 All rights reserved. ZORRO®.
Culture Clash · Creators, Writers and Performers
Tony Taccone · Director
Christopher Acebo · Set Design
Christal Weatherly · Costume Design
Alexander V. Nichols · Lighting Design
Robbin E. Broad · Sound Design
Kimberly Mark Webb · Stage Manager
Dave Maier · Fight Director
MaryBeth Cavanaugh · Movement Driector
Shirley Fishman · Dramaturg
Amy Potozkin · Casting
Molly Aaronson-Gelb · Assistant Director
Edward Kurtz · Assistant Director
Sara Clement · Assistant Scenic Designer
Carla Pantoja · Assistant Fight Director
Joseph Kamal · Diego / Zorro / Ensemble
Sharon Lockwood · 200 Year Old Woman / Ensemble
Richard Montoya · Clasher / Ensemble
Vincent Christopher Montoya · El Musico / Ensemble
Ric Salinas · Kyle (the Bear) / Ensemble
Herbert Sigüenza · Don Ringo / Ensemble
“The performers are fast, inventive and versatile…Jokes fly thick and fast…political gibes, quick quips, pop culture and literary references…sight gags of every description, including hilarious film spoofs, acted onstage and projected in clever combinations of movie clips and animation…Welcome comic relief and a helpful call to action.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“The funniest show the Bay Area comedy troupe has ever written…Culture Clash uses the story as a starting point for an almost spiritual tour of California…A devastatingly hilarious satire of just about everything Californians hold dear.”—Contra Costa Times
“Culture Clash mines Zorro for all he’s worth…The 22-year-old Chicano performance trio born in San Francisco’s Mission District is always funny…The irreverent quartet [of CC and Tony Taccone] opens up California as a cultural liquidation sale—everything must go!”—Oakland Tribune
“A hot-topic comedy…equal parts Mime Troupe and Mel Brooks, swashbuckling through the politics of race and power in California history…A rabble-rousing call to arms…A pastiche, pumped up on pop steroids…Sharon Lockwood is a hoot and a half.”—San Jose Mercury News
Prologue: from the Artistic Director
The search for a hero
A long time ago (my memory no longer functions when trying to retrieve information later than last week), Berkeley Rep tried to commission Culture Clash to mwork on a project related to Zorro. It seemed like a natural fit: the razor-sharp wit of the Clash colliding head on with the monolithic myth of California’s mmost famous Latino hero. A tremendous amount of excitement and a considerable amount of conversation was generated, but, alas, life intervened and the project never got off the ground.
Nevertheless, all parties remained intrigued by the possibilities. Sandy Curtis and the good people at Zorro Productions, Inc., (whose headquarters are located in the Berkeley Marina, of all places!), encouraged us to keep the dialogue going, and over the course of many years the idea simply would not go away. Richard Montoya would periodically send me ideas for different titles (¡Y Tu Zorro También! comes to mind), Herbert Sigüenza would send me sketches of fantastic costumes he would dream of fitting into and Ric Salinas would come into my office to perform excerpts of tantalizing fandangos that would severely test his middle-aged hamstrings.
Now, some twenty years later, we finally have something to show: a fully fleshed out text marked by CC’s insistently original take on the time-honored legend.
It could not come at a better time. Such is the state of our culture, filled as it is with cynicism about everything from our political leaders to the declining quality of kitty litter, that our need for heroes seems to be at an all-time high. We want to believe in something, something good and just, something bigger than ourselves that can diminish our fear and despair and restore the natural beauty and wonder of the world. Regardless of our different opinions about Zorro, it feels right to bring him back: to band together at this critical historical moment to do nothing less than take back the world. Better yet, it feels right to be able to laugh about it.
Who better to help us assay such an extraordinary task than the extraordinary guys of Culture Clash? Who better to make us see both the merit and ridiculousness of our efforts? May they resurrect our spirits and swell the ranks of Zorro’s sleeping army!
Get your Z on!
Urgent art for these urgent times
By The Boys
For two decades, Culture Clash has created new works for the national stage. Since 1984, our group has explored stand-up comedy, sketch, hip hop, performance art, monologues and full-length plays. We’ve authored nearly a dozen plays, including an adaptation of Aristophanes’ The Birds, and we co-wrote the book for a long lost Frank Loesser tuner called Señor Discretion, Himself, based on a short story by Budd Schulberg.
As playwright-performers, Culture Clash is usually seen as a performance troupe rather than a writing group. A common misconception is that we improvise or spontaneously make up dialogue while on stage. Au contraire! Culture Clash approaches work in a fashion similar to seasoned jazz musicians playing a song—text may be set in stone, yet we never pass an opportunity to riff and improvise while keeping the beat(s).
Culture Clash’s Zorro in Hell is in fact part of a trilogy of plays exploring the ever-changing landscape and history of our Golden State: a California cycle of plays inspired in part by the great works of cultural hero and playwriting icon Mr. August Wilson. Mr. Wilson was a fan of Chavez Ravine, our epic play set in Los Angeles from the 1930s to ‘50s. Mr. Wilson sat through two performances while busily rewriting the epic Gem of the Ocean in Los Angeles, and that meant mucho to these boys.
Taking a cue from the “Great One,” we have given ourselves permission to write in play cycles. We follow the swollen rivers and tributaries of our culture while steering clear of the dumbed down and non-threatening “Latin Explosion” as well as the cynical and market-driven “Decade of the Hispanic.” Instead, we embark on restless journeys that allow us to delve deep into the Chicano experience while continuing to broaden our worldview.
The group’s concerns have blasted beyond the dead-end streets of identity politics. We have influenced generations of students and fellow culture-makers. Water & Power will be our first dramatic work about corruption, elected officials and the brutality of the LAPD in current-day Los Angeles. This new work is authored by Richard Montoya for the group, and will receive its world premiere in August at the Mark Taper Forum.
Though Culture Clash has driven a stake through the heart and killed forever the notion of “comedy troupe,” Zorro in Hell presents a sort of paradoxical throwback to our bawdy early days when we didn’t know of or give a damn about anything other than performance. We are holding fast to the Diego Rivera mantra that art and politics are inextricably connected. The Spanish classics will have to wait: we are creating and gathering the madness of the world and reporting it back to our audience in record time. There is an urgency to us cats.
Consider that the group started in San Francisco’s historic Mission District in the shadow of Mission Dolores and the Camino Real, and now we all live just blocks from the other end of the camino known as the Hollywood Freeway. We never stray far from our roots, yet our work has taken us to the street corners of the Lower East Side and its Nuyorican Poets, survivors of the Catholic Church in Boston, Katrina “refugees” in the Gulf States, to farm workers in the San Joaquin Valley and Chiapas, and back again to Berkeley’s anarchists and courageous AIDS workers deep in the trenches of the Tenderloin and Mission District. We have criss-crossed the country more times than we can remember; we danced with death, drank with drunkards, out-smarted cops, got run out of town by the religious right (Kansas State University) and walked the Border Fence on both sides.
Our creative life at times has been like a Fellini picture. Zorro in fact reminds us a bit of Dante’s Inferno, if you will, taking us on a downward spiral along the Camino Real where fact and fiction collide, the real and the unreal crashing and undulating as memorable characters appear without notice. We post-modern clowns have gleefully reconstructed the world and deconstructed the legend that surrounded the most famous, and quite possibly first, Latino icon. How could it be that the first Californio Chicano is born of myth and fantasy?! Octavio Paz is rolling around somewhere!
We simply could not resist the Zorro legend, though we tried at least once. But in there somewhere, in all those photos from the ‘40s and ‘50s of pudgy little white kids trying with all their might to be Zorro…something touched us and reminded us that we too taped chalk to the end of sticks as we tried to make Z’s on the sidewalk. The cynics in us want to debunk, and we go about the business of that with fervor—but we also reveal the redemptive power of this hero based on true California Poet Bandits who dared to fight the tightening noose around their brown necks.
Our love and respect of the cinema is evident here too. Books and movies such as Alice in Wonderland, Jacob’s Ladder and Being John Malkovich are big-time inspirations for us and our work. Time, reality, land, race, gender and politics are part of the palette and fair game.
Culture Clash wishes to thank our collaborators and comrades without whom this work would not be on stage tonight. We lift our swords in respect to Director Tony Taccone, Berkeley Rep, Lit Hit Dame Shirley Fishman, La Jolla Playhouse, Swashbuckling Swordsman Dave Maier and the Brass Tack Broads Susan Medak and Nola Mariano. Big mescal shots are also offered to Sandra Curtis and John Gertz of Zorro Productions, Inc. Time to sit back lil’ partners—or to jump on Tornado, saddle up with the CC gang and gallop away to Culture Clash’s Zorro in Hell!
Zorro—the history of a living legend
By Madeleine Oldham
El Zorro is often referred to as a living legend, having been invented and reinvented again and again. The ongoing story has absorbed his many incarnations with appealing dexterity; his namesake “the fox” a perfect metaphor—sly, cunning, sharp, quick, playful and above all, nimble.
Created in 1919 by pulp fiction writer Johnston McCulley, the character of Zorro first appeared in a five-part serial published in All-Story Weekly entitled “The Curse of Capistrano.” McCulley never expected that his Zorro character would ignite the imaginations of so many so passionately. He intended “The Curse of Capistrano” to be a complete entity, and revealed the identity of his masked hero at the end. And that perhaps would have been the end, had Douglas Fairbanks not read the story on his 1920 cruise-ship honeymoon with Mary Pickford. Fairbanks saw enormous potential in the story as well as a juicy role to tackle, and while he was still on the ocean he cabled home to start production on a film adaptation (to become The Mark of Zorro).
The film was a gigantic hit, and the increased interest in the character led to other Zorro stories. McCulley proceeded to write dozens more, choosing to take some liberties with plot: later stories portrayed Zorro as a masked man of mystery, and completely ignored the fact that his identity had already been revealed in the first iteration. Five years after The Mark of Zorro came Don Q, Son of Zorro, another Fairbanks film which further embellished the story with Fairbanks’ considerable skills as an actor—including his use of a whip, his skill dancing a fandango and magic tricks displayed by Zorro’s alter-ego, Diego. This history paved the way for Zorro to continue to adapt to the changing tastes of history and popular appeal. In the words of Zorro expert, Sandra Curtis: “Zorro has had true staying power because he has been successfully reinterpreted within the spirit of the times.”
A constant parade of movies, books, TV shows, comic strips and memorabilia have kept the character alive over the years. Much as McCulley was rumored to have been influenced by Baroness Emmuska Orczy’s Scarlet Pimpernel, Zorro influenced many other characters in turn. Batman creator Bob Kane is very up-front about how Zorro inspired his development of that character, recalling:
“When I was 13 years old, I saw The Mark of Zorro with Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. He was the most swashbuckling, derring-do, superhero I’ve ever, ever seen in my life, and he left a lasting impression on me. And of course later, when I created the Batman, it gave me the dual identity, ‘cause Zorro had the dual identity. During the day, he played a foppish count, Don Diego…a bored playboy, and at night he became Zorro. He wore a mask and he strapped his trusty sword around his waist. He came out of a cave…which I made into a bat cave, and he rode a black horse called Tornado, and later on I had the Batmobile. So Zorro was a major influence on my creation of Batman.”
Other dual-identity combatants of injustice who owe allegiance to the Fox include the Lone Ranger, Superman, the Phantom and the Green Hornet.
Zorro’s public profile shows no signs of disappearing any time soon. A new Zorro musical will open soon, with original music by the Gipsy Kings, and he is still very present in mainstream culture with two recent blockbuster Hollywood films: 1998’s The Mask of Zorro and 2005’s The Legend of Zorro. A third film is in the works—an adaptation of the recently-released Isabel Allende novel. Allende penned the back-story explaining how Zorro became Zorro, which, amazingly, had never really been tackled before. He is also widely celebrated internationally, and particularly loved in Italy, Korea and Mexico.
Zorro has managed to transcend the page and spawn a continuously evolving mythology. No other action hero has found a more perfect blend of adventure, daring, passion, romance and humor. Among his other innumerable talents, El Zorro seems to have cultivated one that eludes many characters: simply, the ability to exist in the present. It may be premature to call Zorro immortal, but if anybody can discover how to live forever, Zorro can.