Saturday, March 26, 2016

Blood Alley (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

I imagine when theatre goers hear the name "Zombie Joes" among the things coming to mind are words like "edgy" "dark" "disturbing".  More than anything else, this demonstrates a success in marketing a brand.  ZJU remains open and producing original works for decades.  One reason is that very success in letting the audience know what to expect.

At the same time, Blood Alley offers us an example of taking that brand to the extreme.  Even more than the company's (often brilliant, certainly wildly popular) signature show Urban Death, this one pushes boundaries.  I've often called theatre at this venue "theatre of dreams" because it captures a sense of watching/participating in a dream.  Sometimes those dreams are nightmares.

This one certainly qualifies as a nightmare.  Lots of nightmares.  So much so I feel trigger warnings might be appropriate.  Anyone who has recently been the victim of any violence, especially sexual violence, might want to reconsider seeing this work. It aims to disturb, with all the power of a Dionysian ritual in Ancient Greece--and succeeds!

Credit: ZJU
Much of what the (fearless) cast produces under the direction of Zombie Joe gets under your skin.  Sometimes for reasons obvious, but other times strangely covert. Distortion, fear, a sense of decadence or subtle madness permeate many of the vignettes making up the experience.  In fact there's relatively little actual violence enacted during the hour-long performance.  What we do see is often brief, but vivid.

Sometimes it is also very simple.  Like the suitcase.  You'll find out what I mean if you go.

Or just a turnabout in ways we don't expect--a weirdly un-erotic fully nude dance which involves distortion, first by a lovely woman then a fairly handsome young man. 

Fortunately there's also some humor.  A good thing, because some release from the tension was frankly needed.  Part of the humor arose from musician Kevin Van Cott as a policeman (interestingly, outfitted as a London Bobby) who is freaking out over what he's seen or heard of this place--Blood Alley.  As far as the title goes, I immediately thought of Harry Potter's Diagon Alley but where all the dark things go and fester, where fears and neuroses scuttle amid the shadows and debris, and hungers we don't like to admit we feel emerge.

Credit: ZJU
To give an example of what this show entails, it contained the most harrowing rape I've ever seen on stage.  What made it most powerful was how Ian Heath in effect assaulted Charlotte Bjornbak via telekinesis or remote control.  They never even touched!  But my own flesh crawled.

And likewise it proved fascinating whenever the performance ventured into sexuality--be it lesbian make-out session or the strutting of some artfully posing streetwalkers (Daniel Palma, Elif Savas, Allison Fogarty, and Cassie Carpenter) that sexuality never ventures into the erotic.  Sex without pleasure, or even the hint of pleasure!

Credit: ZJU
Theatre of Nightmares.  As in waking up in a cold sweat...

I don't want to describe any more of what happens, since that might rob this amazing show of its impact, but let again praise the very brave performers--especially those not yet mentioned by name:  Liliane Laborde-Edozien, Kelly Powers,  Adam Shows,  and Alex G-SmithAn excessively brave cast this!

Blood Alley plays at 11pm Fridays and Saturdays until April 9, 2016 at Zombie Joes, 4850 Lankershim Blvd. (just south of the NoHo sign) North Hollywood CA 91601.

No comments: