Monday, December 8, 2014

Morrison Christmas (review)

Spoilers ahoy! 

Good theatre often generates a sense of deja vu. A sense of the familiar, the already known, a memory brought to life on a visceral level. More than once, for example, I've watched a play and with something like a chill said to myself (about someone portrayed on stage) "That is me." Such proved my experience in viewing Morrison Christmas at ZJU. I felt thirteen again, back in the 70s when black lights and weirdly hypnotic music coupled with swirling patterns of color and stream of consciousness words. Didn't much like it then. But I was a kid. And I never forgot it.

Morrison Christmas is one of those pieces I like to call "Theatre of Dreams' which has become pretty much a staple at ZJU. In keeping with the holiday, though, this show eschews the spooky and the creep out in favor of mysticism a la Jim Morrison himself. Every single moment felt like the recreation of a genuine religious experience, a Mystery Play for those who need to get past trappings of the safe, the complacent, the too-familiar. Fourth Chakra stuff. Equal parts mardi gras and meditation, both celebration and contemplation. Life and death, individuality and union, animal and spirit. Enacting the central mystery of the transcendent Divine awakening within a doll of flesh and bone and blood, surrounded by bars of time and space.

I honestly cannot imagine a more appropriate subject for Christmas--the festival in the name of a Jewish Boddishatva.

Photo: Josh T. Ryan
Josh T. Ryan is one of those directors whose work always fascinates and enlightens, so much so I kick myself for missing any work in which he's involved. Of the cast of Morrison Christmas, I'm familiar with about a third. All accomplished what this kind of performance needs--a kind of vivid individual charisma and talent, a commitment to the experience. Alex Walters falls so smoothly (I suspect not effortlessly) into the flow of this event he brings us along from the very start. He's the first ensemble member we see, guitar in hand and song to sing. He's followed by the rest--Amir Khalighi, his natural intensity grown stronger, Chelsea Rose ever increasing in her skills at precisely this sort of theatre, tigress Vanessa Cate showing us vulnerability just as powerful as her usual strength, Cheryl Doyle (just as interesting and as fearless as the last time I saw her--which was well into the level of excellent), Alison Stolpa and her quiet intensity (especially the way she listens), Marc Erickson who manages to seem both human and unworldly, plus Cynthia Salazar and Olivia Spirz and Brenda Nicole Walsh.

To be honest, not everyone will go for a show like this. So very non-linear, so stream-of-consciousness, so blending of seemingly diverging elements in so Dionysian an event. Which is fine. Some will find a frank, open (but hardly taudry) approach to sexuality disturbing. The references to multiple religious traditions might confuse some. Others might feel offended. So it goes. But if you take the time to see this performance (which, I highly recommend) and let it wash over you like music, something valuable might come of it. I myself felt drawn in and refreshed. To give a visceral (how appropriate) example of the impact, let me note I was feeling
Photo: Josh T. Ryan
in pain just before the show began. I started having some muscle spasms in a limb.

But after awhile, I just didn't pay attention to any discomfort. What was before me took all my attention, and I left the theatre with a rather deep smile on my face. What more, really, can I say?

Morrison Christmas plays at 11pm Fridays and Saturdays until December 20, 2014, at Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre Group at 4850 Lankershim Blvd. North Hollywood CA 91601 (north of Camarillo, south of the NoHo Sign, across the street from KFC). Tickets are $15. You can make reservations by calling 818-202-4120 or visiting

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