Thursday, February 7, 2013

Love Me Deadly (Review)

Photo Credit: Adam Neubauer
Spoilers Ahoy!

Ever seen someone mount a radio play on stage? But keep it a radio play? The actors look forward, standing in front of a microphone, while on on-stage foley artist makes all the sounds one would expect--opening and closing doors, pouring drinks, picking up phones, etc.

If you haven't, it can work very well. And does in Zombie Joe's latest excursion into live action horror, Love Me Deadly. The set literally looks like a radio studio from probably sometime in the 1950s. Period advertisements dot the wall. There's even an announcer/narrator providing segues and commentary throughout (Matt Skylar, who also appeared hilariously in Not With Monsters in the same venue).

Photo Credit: Adam Neubauer
This kind of show can be tricky to pull off. Actors have to rely on the voices but not ignore their physicality. More, they don't look at each other so must project a special kind of intensity out to the audience. Add to that the special tone of this particular play (written by Matthew Sklar), a mix of genuine human emotion with slight over-the-top caricature. One can see why this style sometimes makes producers, directors and actors hesitate.

But this company nails it!

Love Me Deadly reminds one of Twilight Zone or maybe Boris Karloff's Thriller back in the day.  A nice enough schlep named Sam Meeker (Cory Wyszynski, veteran of several ZJU productions including Not With Monsters) hangs out at
a bar with his best friend Bobby Callahan (Willy Romano-Pugh). The barkeep Alice (Caroline Montes) knows them both, flirting with Sam--alas to no avail since he doesn't notice. Yet at that moment a mysterious beautiful woman introduces herself to Sam. Her name? Fiona Rourke (Erin Cate--who was in the recent Down And Dirty Christmas Cabaret at ZJU). Doesn't take long for Sam
Photo Credit: Adam Neubauer
to fall utterly under her spell, even as he begins to look the worse and even worse for wear.

Eventually, the bar's resident drunk Gus (Henry Hart-Browne) fills them in on the secret that made him crawl into a bottle for four decades. Fiona Rourke committed suicide in the 1890s. This is her ghost, still hungry for all that life denied her. In effect she's drawing out the life of her victims, persuading them to join her in death. For the record, this description of what the ghost really is I found quite compelling--not the remnant of that girl who died, but just an intelligent echo of her loneliness and pain. "She" isn't a person at all, but a need.

Honestly, isn't that the real horror of ghost stories? Not a person caught in between life and death. That might
Photo Credit: Adam Neubauer
be anything from horrible to quite nice, depending on the person. One might find it even re-assuring that the death of the flesh can demonstrably not be the end of all. But true ghost stories aren't about that. They tell about strange alien desires that cannot find fulfillment, but devour those who venture too close. We hate it most when the past reaches out to demand that which we cannot give, threatening us if we fail as we cannot help but do. Insane, unreasonable demands that cannot listen, cannot change. Which is why Shirley Jackson's The Haunting makes for a much more terrifying read that Richard Matheson's Hell House. As H.P.Lovecraft so demonstrated, the real horror is a world where chaos storm around us, our entire lives mere islands in a sea of malice.

Perhaps that is also why these kinds of stories often require some kind of humor to make more palatable.
Hence the Narrator's somewhat gleeful comments as things go all wrong for poor Sam. Likewise the
Photo Credit: Adam Neubauer
Announcer/Girl/Nurse role (Corey Zicari, another veteran of both Down and Dirty Christmas as wells Not With Monsters ). She also does all the foley art for the play, as well as doing little advertisements for the show's sponsors--like Zombie-gone, to get rid of those pesky undead. Or the Bathory Beauty Salon!

I enjoyed this show so much I hope they use this format again to create more radio dramas, or perhaps even resurrect some from the past! My only real complaint is that all the sounds used didn't come from a more-obviously seen musician (Kevin Van Cott could barely be seen) or from Ms. Zicari's character--maybe from a gramaphone.

Love Me Deadly plays Sundays at 7pm until March 24, 2013. at Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Avenue North Hollywood. Tickets are $15.

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