Because I believe a critic's duty involves honesty with one's audience at all times let me begin with a warning: Zombie Joe's Attack of the Rotting Corpses does not contain any musical numbers. No musical numbers, got it?
I mention this because of a pertinent comparison. A movie came out within the last year that got a fair amount of attention. Titled Warm Bodies, it in effect took the genre of Zombies and created a story somewhat akin to Twilight. Well, here we have something similar. A zombie storyline retold rather in the manner of the (in)famous Rocky Horror Picture Show. A relatively isolated location full of eccentric characters, sexual shenanigans, jealousy and envy and suspicion as well as a lot of comic myopia playing itself out with laughs and a few dashes of horror and/or drama. Along the way, characters find out some things about themselves. Forbidden fruit earns a bite or two. Death comes suddenly as well as violently, with oddly inappropriate reactions for humor's sake. Middle class ethics get skewered and yet kinda celebrated. Instead of Middle America, we're at a condo in San Fernando Valley, yet the same skewed sense of humor abounds.
But--no musical numbers, like I said.
First and foremost, given this play counts as a comedy, the questions quite rightly begin with "Is it funny?" The answer is YES. But...the "but" in this case depending on the audience. Those easily grossed out or with very weak stomachs should probably give this one a pass.While not as violent as (for example) Urban Death, this remains a show not for the squeamish.
More importantly, Attack earned laughs aplenty from the audience. To be brutally honest, I had a hard time joining in. At first. By show's end, I was laughing out loud with everybody else! Easy to see why. Central to the story we meet Mack and Vic (Corey Zicari and Tyler Koster respectively) who work as conscierges at a condo. Among the many travails with which they must contend is a phone number rather too similar to that of a laundromat, the loss of a priceless (to the owner) red scarf in the dry cleaning, the strange behavior of a tenant no one's seen for awhile (and his girlfriend). Oh, and the water is off. Why? Well, therein lies the rather disturbing news. Not only had something gone terribly wrong with the pipes mixing the wrong waters, it seems some kind of bacteria showed up as well. As the plumber Blane (R.Benjamin Warren) explains, this bacteria will eat away at your innards and destroy your brain, turning the poor wretch thus infected into a decomposing psychotic obsessed with devouring fresh human flesh.
Not the sort of news one likes to hear from any plumber, much less your own!
Remember, though--no musical numbers. Just a reminder
This, naturally, is the setup for a mini zombie apocalypse as our heroes (or, more accurately, schmucks--nice overall, hard-working yeah, but totally unequal to any real disaster) try to cope.
And yeah, fail. We laugh in the face of death and doom, lest we cry or simply scream. Hence the whole point! Our attempts to hold on to normalcy even in the face of walking cadavers trying to eat us is one reason nearly all zombie flicks have an element of humor. Dark humor, to be sure. Attack follows that meme with no apologies and plenty of relish (plus maybe some soy sauce). By the end I was laughing out loud and having a great time! What interfered with my enjoyment at the start was something technical.
Forgive the metaphor, but a roller coaster is no fun if you don't slow down sometimes, if the car doesn't climb up or spend some time simply going on a horizontal plane. Attack started frenetic instead of building, and as a result a lot of the humorous rhythm didn't work--at first. We the audience all adapted to it, eventually. But honestly several different times I simply didn't know what was going on. A few cast members spoke so quickly and with the same over-energized pitch figuring out what they were saying proved pointless. Everybody seemed really talented (Chris Hodge as Paisley almost stole it) and when they actually interacted grabbed (and kept) my attention. But since it began over the top, very loud and very fast, it took awhile for me to "get in the grove."
When I--and everyone else--did, though, the show made for a wonderfully dark time in the theater! And apart from the genuine talent throughout, a big part of that goes to the writing. Here we glimpsed a world very like out own, but tweaked. For example, the pettiness of many characters came across as both pathetic and yet somehow heroic. Don't think the essential gag of a couple of wage-slaves doing a dull repetitive job end up attacked by zombies went unnoticed! Oh no! Or how devoted said wage-slaves remained to their own, in some ways silly, code of honor. The zombies will NOT be allowed to steal a sandwich intended for a friend! Death does not mean one gives up on hatred of a rival condo! And just because hordes of undead cannibals are reaching to rip you into pieces with no possible escape and rescue in sight--that's no reason not to answer the phone when it rings and identify your workplace.
Ridiculous, and brave. Stoopid, but with a few drops of greatness. So we laugh. Lest we cry, remember we too will die. Probably not via zombies, but something. Mack and Vic are just going through a souped up version of a really, really bad day. And who hasn't known a few of those?
But again--no musical numbers.
Well, maybe one. Kinda.
Attack of the Rotting Corpses (presented in its third incarnation!) plays Fridays at 11pm until July 12, 2013. Shows are at Zombie Joe's at 4850 Lankershim, North Hollywood (across the street from KFC) CA 91601. Reservations are at (818) 202-4120.