Sunday, June 8, 2014

Nightmaricomio (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

A play director I know was at the opening night of Nightmaricomio with me. Afterwards, she sighed and said "Everything I do is so ordinary." The reply that came from my mouth seemed especially appropriate in understanding this, ZJU's first entry into Hollywood's Fringe Festival. "Wouldn't it be a shame if all plays were Dionysian," I said, "or all plays were Apollonian? It would be like having only one gender!"

Maybe that is the key to understanding this show. Friedrich Nietzsche drew a distinction between two types of art. Dionysian is wild, primal, often rude, difficult to understand intellectually, surprising, with a logic (if you can call it that) more akin to dreams than the waking world. Apollonian art has structure, makes sense, is frankly more accessible to most because it is clearer, tells a story, has recognizable figures of one kind or other.

Nightmaricomio turns out very Dionysian indeed, possibly the most such I've ever seen from ZJU. For one thing it is a dance, pretty much never-ending from the moment the door opens to when the last audience member leaves. Not a particularly choreographed dance, but extremely organic and with the cast interacting virtually every moment. Does what follows have a "story"? Well, yes. And no. It has stories, that flow one into the other, which each player donning many roles. Three times individual cast members break out into soliloquies (one from Shakespeare) with the rest of the cast behaving/enacting/reacting to them. Likewise the players become animals, become trees or forces of nature. More than once they drop out of character, becoming actors in a play, this play. But even that isn't quite true. Because they aren't themselves but versions of themselves, enacting a play within the play that seems "naturalistic" by comparison but is just as unreal--not least in the amount of violence it contains. Unreal violence. Yet telling.

Tis a bit hard to single out people within such an ensemble that functions mostly as a gestalt. Yet one of the aspects of the Dionysian to tossing away differences, blending polarities. Everyone simultaneously becomes individual as well as collective. Sebastian Munoz struggling free from a monstrous crowd, and magically rescuing/empowering Redetha Deason from it. Hannah Kaplan just stepping out from the weirdness and dreams to tell a quick, funny, tragic little moment from life. Corey Zicari turning into a goofy little fun bird (I think) who proves only too vulnerable. Roger Weiss suddenly giving a speech about individuality from a famous play, in verse no less, for a moment becoming the STAR of the show, everyone else mere props giving shape to HIS words. Erin Treanor, Leif LaDuke, Vivi Thai as well all do what this kind of off-kilter semi-performance art show, seamlessly going from individual to cell, human to animal to spirit to shape to actor, and in this show always dancer.

One cast member is not a dancer, though. Kevin Van Cott is a musician. He is on stage literally more than any other member of the ensemble, and arguably his skills as a drummer will win your applause. But in my opinion he also stole the show, by breaking out of his role more than once, and sometimes in subtle little ways demonstrating a lot of personal power.

If I try and describe much further the content of this show, failure will be the result. Fundamentally it needs experiencing rather than explaining. Should you be in the mood for an experience as opposed to a straightforward story, or feel the attraction of having your brain pulled a little outside its usual box, then here is a show I recommend, highly. But, in the words of a friend, it is also "weird." Me, I like weird.

Nightmaricomio plays Thursdays, June 12 at 7pm, June 19 at 9pm and June 26 at 8:30pm, at the Theatre Asylum Lab at 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., LA CA 90038. Reservations can be made at 818.202.4120 or at

Disclaimer: Zombie Joe, the director and producer, is a friend of mine and he asked me to design the postcard for this show which I did based on his description. I did it, without having seen the performance.

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