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Tyrell Crews, Mabelle Carvajal, and Derek Flores in Alberta Theatre ProjectsÕ production of ZORRO: Family Code by Rebecca Northan, Bruce Horak, and Christian Goutsis. Photo: Benjamin Laird.

  • Title: Zorro: Family Code
  • Created by: Rebecca Northan, Bruce Horak and Christian Goutsis
  • Actors: Derek Flores, Tyrell Crews, Mabelle Carvajal, Kevin Corey, Natasha Strickey and Lucian-River Mirage Chauhan
  • Venue: Alberta Theatre Projects
  • City: Calgary

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Zorro might live outside the law, but he lives within the Code.

That’s the one where he never kills anyone, no matter what injustice he is righting.

“That is my goal,” says Zorro (Derek Flores), who, in Alberta Theatre Projects’s delightful new screwball-comedy version, is a bit past his expiration date as a hero – akin to so many dads everywhere.

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This Zorro needed a haircut two months ago. He has bags under his eyes, a bit of a paunch, and – regrettably – sciatica, from too many years of gravity-defying feats of derring-do, many of them in pursuit of his arch-rival, the handsome yet loathsome Capitan Juan Ramon (Tyrell Crews).

Family Code picks up in the small Spanish backwater of Pueblo de la Costa, which Ramon and criminal sidekick Sergeant Pedro Gonzales (a very funny Kevin Corey) have absconded to after a jailbreak.

Ramon, a bit of a creaky villain himself – arthritic knee – is determined to retire and marry Maria Murrieta (a luminous and regal Mabelle Carvajal), an innkeeper and his one true love.

But Pueblo de la Costa also happens to be the birthplace of a hero – Zorro – and happens to be where Don Diego de la Vega, his alter ego, lives and raises his two children, teenage Isadora (Natasha Strickey) and preteen Miguel (Lucian-River Mirage Chauhan) on his own, after the death of his wife.

It is said that Zorro preceded Batman as an honourable crime fighter, but really, the hero timeline in Zorro: Family Code goes through The Incredibles, the first family of heroes. It’s undoubtedly as much of an inspiration as anything for this ATP world premiere, which blends the sensibilities of Pixar with a little bit of vintage Mel Brooks – anyone remember 1975’s ABC comedy When Things Were Rotten?

But it seems there’s also a Zorro impersonator out there, who keeps turning up at opportune moments and wreaking vengeance a bit more vigorously than the Code calls for.

It’s all exceedingly silly, delivered to the audience – many of them children under 10 – in slickly fake Hollywood Spanish accents by a talented cast that appears to have as good a time performing Zorro: Family Code as the audience has watching it.

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Flores’s Zorro does heroic in bursts. He’s beaten down by the years, sort of short for a hero, and constantly running out of breath if a sword fight (exhilaratingly choreographed by Karl Sine) goes too long.

Crews’s Ramon, meanwhile, is a riot. He’s tall, handsome, swashbuckly as hell – and never misses a chance to be hoist with his own petard. His best moments in Family Code are when he kidnaps Miguel, who, in the hands of the comically inspired Mirage Chauhan, threatens to steal the show out from under the leads.

The smart part of Family Code is that – unlike every Marvel and DC Comics movie ever – it doesn’t lose track of the fact that there are domestic, and emotional, consequences to having a hero for a father.

Strickey’s Isadora – every bit dad’s equal at swordplay but also brimming with teenage fury, adrenalin and complicated moods – is always showing up at inconvenient moments to remind dad that his job doesn’t stop when the mask comes off, while making a compelling case for taking over the family hero business herself.

The design – by Narda McCarroll, Hanne Loosen (costumes), Sine (swords and combat) – is exceptional, particularly Loosen’s gorgeous costumes. And all that stage swashbuckling!

Zorro: Family Code is an ode to family values, but happily for Calgary holiday audiences looking for a way to drag their kids away from their screens for a couple of hours, it’s also something else: A love letter to comedy that’s as much fun for the grownups as it is for the kids.

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Zorro: Family Code runs in Calgary until Dec. 30 (atplive.com).

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