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by George F. Walker
Enlightenment Theatre
Waterfront Theatre, Granville Island
July 18-August 4
604-231-7535 or

Mankind is weak.  The world is ugly.  The only way to save them from each other is to destroy them both. So says Zastrozzi, master criminal of all Europe, the self-professed “clear, sane voice of negative spirituality.”  Cue the thunder and stage smoke, the bass piano chords and blood-red lighting!

Brilliant swordsman, nihilist philosopher, seducer, revenger, atheist—Zastrozzi moves through Europe like the plague, obsessively pursuing his mother’s murderer, the effete Italian artist Verezzi, intent on making all men “answerable” for their crimes and sins. Zastrozzi, the greatest criminal and sinner of them all.

Full of ironic pseudo-philosophical wit and stylized period violence, this 1977 play from Toronto’s George F. Walker remains one of the strangest and most exciting in the Canadian repertoire. Think Oscar Wilde meets Quentin Tarantino, with sword-fighting.  The movie would star Johnny Depp, aged by about ten years.

Every role is exceptional: the fantastic title character and his prey, Verezzi, a ridiculously demented religious fanatic; Zastrozzi’s thuggish hitman Bernardo; ex-priest Victor, Verezzi’s protector; and the two women, raven-haired S&M seductress Matilda and her opposite, the ingenuous blond virgin Julia.

Enlightenment Theatre, a new young Vancouver company, has a good go at this rich baroque material with its tricky style and tone. Is it comedy or a semi-serious study of morality and revenge or, as Walker indicates, a melodrama?  And if it’s set in 1893 as Zastrozzi says, why does Walker have everyone carry swords as if it’s 1593?  Under Emilio Salituro’s direction the cast and production team score more hits than misses.

Marco Soriano, with his shaven head and dark, intense eyes, makes a very good Zastrozzi.  The cocksure master criminal is so tormented by nightmares and preoccupied by revenge that he’s no longer even interested in violent lovemaking and whipping games with Matilda. Soriano captures both the arrogance and the anxiety, even if he sometimes lacks the weight of Europe’s most dangerous man.

Jon Lachlan Stewart makes Verezzi hilarious with his ludicrous sense of saintliness and puppy-like adoration of the two women.  Kendahl Diebold’s wide-eyed innocent Julia is exceptional.  Pay special attention to the scene where she’s seduced by Zastrozzi without his ever touching her.  Colby Wilson’s beefy Bernardo and David Benedict Brown’s scheming Victor hold their own.  Briana Rayner looks great in black leather but often fails to project Matilda’s power and seductiveness, and her lines.  

Opening night adrenalin, methinks, had all the actors rushing their dialogue and jumping their cues.  Fortunately, they stayed in control of Nick Harrison’s excellent fight choreography in the knifings, stranglings, and slashing sabers that leave the stage littered with corpses at the end.  A good dark vengeful bloody time is had by all.       

Jerry Wasserman