Brandon Slezak is an up and coming writer/director at ZJU. This is his third show at that venue, Church Discipline. What particularly distinguishes a lot of his work is audience interaction, which can be tricky.
He and the cast manage a tricky balance on that point. As one enters the theatre, we see the place reset as the interior of a church. Cast members even greet you, asking if you've attended here before, engaging you in small talk, etc. Let me say up front this felt fun, if a tiny bit confusing. Which can be a good thing! From a young lady's reactions when I answered her questions I found out we were in Texas.
Of course the sermon eventually began, and with it the true wackiness. The publicity doesn't really let folks know Church Discipline is a comedy, so let me be the one to tell you. A dark comedy. A zany comedy. A genuinely startling comedy. As Pastor Luke (Slezak) begins his teachings for the day, we learn this Church seems very well-meaning. They urge folks to confess their sins in a bit that raised my eyebrows all the way to my hairline a few times. As a group they seem pretty forgiving, at least of most things. Lola (Emily Charouhas) had an abortion for example, and while shocked the congregation pretty eagerly prayed for her forgiveness. What they do find beyond the pale is something of a comment--cross dressing.
Then, Satan (Henry Steelhammer) shows up. For reals. Well, within the reals of the play's reality you know what I mean. Turns out he has plans, or maybe we should make that PLANS, for the characters in question. And this leads us to a wittily evil Game Show in Hell. No really, think about that concept for a moment. Satan as a Game Show Host, with Damned Souls playing for a chance to not have their tortures increased. Clever! And yeah, dark. This is not a show for those easily offended (or maybe it is--I can see an argument made either way).
And the play ends with a quick fun, even interesting twist. Which I"m not going to give away here save that it involves Mildred (Jennifer Weisner).
Never seen a show like this. What a weirdly charming blend of satire, horror, irony and humor! Really! I do think this feels like an early draft of a really powerful rather than just entertaining show. The elements seem just waiting to be taken a couple of steps further, mostly by taking the premises of this weird world totally seriously and going for it. But then, I think a zany comedy might be the perfect venue to discuss the nature of Sin and the Question of Evil, how belief impacts all of this, etc. I really enjoyed Church Discipline, but feel with some more work I might genuinely love it.
For now, though, what a clever and amusing show, especially for those (like myself) with a fairly dark sense of humor! And let me give a quick shout-out to the rest of the cast as well--Cassidy Davis, Jetta Juriansz, Ben Korman, Alexander Landeck and Zenobia Rose Tucker,
Church Discipline plays Sundays at 7pm until April 9, 2017 at Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre Group, 4850 Lankershim (just north of Camarilla, just south of the NoHo sign) North Hollywood CA 91601.