Monday, May 26, 2014

Haunted Walls and Apparitions (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Shows at Zombie Joe's Underground Theater run quite a range. One hallmark of many 'signature' pieces from the group is a kind of performance art, focusing not so much on  horror per se but rather the darkest parts of our collective unconscious.

Haunted Walls and Apparitions makes for a good example of this. Director Zombie Joe continues to experiment, in this case ripping away the fourth wall or really almost any barrier between performance and audience, between cast and guests. In fact that makes for part of the fun! People were standing against the walls on opening night, and more than once came into contact quite startlingly with the cast! I myself became a participant! Suffice to say you might want to bring a pencil or pen with  you to the show. Just in case you're presented with a test.

I was.

A term I've sometimes used to describe shows here is Theatre of Dreams, which still seems appropriate. Also it avoids answering questions about whether this counts as surrealism, expressionism, etc. Dream-like conveys what we experience, in this case a set of strangely hilarious nightmares. Please note the word "hilarious." Because what happened early on and continued throughout was audience laughter!

Credit: Zombie Joe
Mind you, took a few moments to get into the feel of things, but we started laughing pretty soon and kept it up. Partially because we got to enjoy the faces of fellow audience members! Followed by the kind of gestalt ZJU regulars have come to recognize, even expect. A cast of actors constantly shifting and melding into scenes and characters. Dinosaurs hunting each other millions of years ago. Animals undergoing a sudden burst of evolution. An evocative interplay of sexuality in couples and groups as well as individuals. Transcendance. Some kind of operating room. A mad prophet speaking words that almost (but only almost) make no sense at all.

The words spoken, given how few are, end up with a lot of power and weight. And for the record I think the line "Lets keep the cute in persecute" comes out of some kind of brilliance.

Are you getting the impression this show is hard to describe? It isn't, not really. I can honestly and clearly say the show easily achieves a dark, nightmarish comedy. That is has no plot, but something of a story. Was I totally engaged? Yes! Was I ever confused? Often! In a good way. At times I could feel my perceptions genuinely strain against the edges of this mental box.  The actors used makeup and movement like masks. They lived and died on stage, portraying humans and animals and sometimes machines.

But at heart, you really need to see this show for yourself, to experience it individually, to really understand what it is all about.

Which methinks is the idea.

Haunted Walls and Apparitions plays at Zombie Joe's, 4850 Lankershim Blvd. (north of Camarilla & the 101/134 fwys, across from KFC) North Hollywood CA 91601. Call (818) 202-4120 for tix. Shows on Saturdays at 11pm from May 24 to June 28.

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