Monday, July 13, 2015

The Bereaved (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

The Bereaved is something new for ZJU--a Monday night show! Which makes plenty of sense when you think about it, because each performance really does only last one hour, making it weeknight friendly in terms of audience. Something to consider!

But how is the show itself?

In essence the whole thing is (quite literally, and deliberately) a dark farce. The Bereaved is around the funeral and memorial service of wealthy businessman Bruce Calhoun (Michael Dougherty). His widow and several former paramours are in attendance, along with friends (sort of) and the deceased's brother James (Jason Kientz). One sees the potential here immediately I trust? Well, happily there's more to it than that even!

There's a lot to list right with this production, including the script by Andy Shultz and the direction by David Wyn Harris along with Shultz. As mentioned before, the style is "farce" and I can tell you few such every work--mostly because of style. Even when the writing is spot on, most actors have had naturalism taught and re-taught so much the wild sense of over-the-top (but controlled) play that makes a farce work gets lost. At least in this country. Here however we have a funeral parlor director (Doug Haverty) who sometimes flirts with And the Reverent Wells (Derrick Brooks) who doesn't quite realize whose funeral this is. Or Tiffany (Brenda Nascimento), hair stylist and diva--the latter harder to pull off than one might think, but she succeeds! Frankly, in the hands of a less talented cast many of these characters would come across as nought but a collection of personality quirks and ticks. Instead we get to have the pleasure of genuine (if bizarre) people.

And we laugh! Ultimately, this is the true test of any comedy! More, like most really high quality comedies, this play really functions much like a funhouse mirror. All these people are recognizably human, albeit distorted a bit and heightened enough to make it easier to chuckle. Neurotics, idiots, narcissists, etc.--they are all us, really. Sooner or later, and to be sure blown up into absurd dimensions, but the fact we laugh means we recognize them. Even the two gravediggers at the very start--blue collar workers with barely half a dozen lines between them--are recognizably people.

Kudos to both writer and cast, and to the director who brought them together!

The Bereaved plays Mondays at 8:30pm until July 27, 2015 at Zombie Joe's Underground Theater, 4850 Lankershim Blvd. (just south of the NoHo Sign), North Hollywood CA 91601. Tickets can be purchased at or by calling (818) 202-4120

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