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ZORRO IN HELL

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at the Ricardo Montalbán

Theatre

Oh, the things we learn from theatre. I had no idea the Zorro story needed deconstructing, because I had no idea anybody paid attention to it. (I went through this with The Brady Bunch Movie and the retooled Flower Drum Song, as well, oblivious to the fact that 1970s suburban white kids and Asian Americans regarded the sources of both with fondness. Who knew?) Culture Clash (writer-performers Richard Montoya, Ric Salinas, and Herbert Sigüenza) are the prism through which we view this phenomenon of the dashing Spanish swordsman who brought frontier justice to Old California; the trio offers up the house blend of Latin mysticism and intellectual density, leavened with great lashings of pop culture and political swipes.

This time out the core Clash is joined by Ezequiel Guerra Jr., Joseph Kamal, and Sharon Lockwood. The men are fine and fluid and up to the demands of the multicharacter roles, but Lockwood is the standout. She nimbly steals the show in the role of the 200-Year-Old Woman, a character whose long life binds the history of the piece. Through her establishment, the Camino Royale Motel, and her bed, to hear her tell it, have passed the literary greats of the past few generations, each one honed under her tutelage from callow youth to genius, and it is she who must show Montoya's writer character his proper path. Lockwood rises to the comedic challenge but also creates an oddly believable and rather endearing creature. The director, Tony Taccone, is nicely attuned to the creators and works well with the loose exuberance inherent in the Clash's work, never allowing the production to become sloppy or confused.

The set (Christopher Acebo) deftly incorporates large-scale graphics into the design, making it possible for us to be transported from the handsomely kitschy motel set to a desert highway, or even whisked away on a laudanum holiday. Christal Weatherly's work on the costumes is adroit, and she is able to capture the nuances of the foppish and the homespun. Go for the cerebral stimulation, stay for the goofy fun, and rejoice that we live in a city where one can sit in the Ricardo Montalbán Theatre and hear a curtain speech by Ricardo Montalbán.

Presented by Culture Clash at the Ricardo Montalbán Theatre, 1615 Vine St., Hollywood. Wed.-Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 2:30 & 8 p.m., Sun. 2:30 & 7:30 p.m. Jul. 18-Aug. 19. (877) 359-6776. www.cultureclash.com.

Reviewed by Wenzel Jones

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