Naked elderly zombie folk reaching to the sky in a split second of illumination–Nude old ladies masturbating in open flower print bathrobes–Equally bare and openly enrobed elderly men in walkers with catheter bags surgically taped to their inner thighs falling over in their quest for self sufficient travel–A young topless woman in men’s pants open at the zipper, back to the audience, face against the wall “pleasuring” herself—at least we think that is what she is doing—if she is even a she–to most disturbing full frontal of results at the tableau’s conclusion. And these are some of the LEAST disturbing segments of the performance…well, okay, not really, but there are plenty more on par with the aforementioned from whence they came! So commences “Urban Death” the latest theatrical “experience” mounted at Zombie Joe’s Underground.
A ghost twitching underneath his/her/its white sheet sits upstage for the roughly 20-30 minute parade that is the audience’s pre-show exodus from the lobby to the theatre. A menacing, wavering, accordion-like ground swell of a growl serenades us as we settle into our seats in most unsettled fashion. (This will transpire until the pre-performance lights dim and the large industrial sliding door separating the theatre from the lobby grinds to an ominous close…) If this doesn’t give anyone an idea of what we are in for tonight, then we should all be monkey’s uncles— i.e. Hairless apes lying in wait under the guise of assumed audience members waiting to battle zombies who will draw us into their every drama as we, like paying psychiatrists, watch to helpless and horrified effect… (Hm, not a bad idea for a movie script now that I think of it…) (Seriously though, one of the best things about Zombie Joe’s Underground is its eerie and singular sound effects!)
This roughly 55 minute “experience” as I have learned to call it, is directed by Jana Wimer, produced by Zombie Joe and written by…no one really as it is all mime—but not involving the laughable kind— the likes of which Dustin Hoffman pushes over at the end of Tootsie; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j2o0mcPhKSU (i.e. the white-faced and Marcel Marceauesque variety, walking an invisible tight-rope in sunnily resplendent Central Park, ping pong ball fists ultimately hurled at the combat-jacketed actor to cartoonish effect.) You know…not the kind who get stuck in a box, but more that of a blonde–albeit dead–bombshell trapped in a buried coffin! “Our Fabulous Urban Death Ensemble” includes: Gene Arroyo, Nicole Fabbri, Gloria Galvan, David Wyn Harris, Mark Hein, Abel Horwitz, Cimcie Nichols, Jonica Patela and Tina Preston.
All photos Courtesy of Marti Matulis:
Scenes are postured in a manner minutes to seconds in these rousing little slice of life—or rather slice of death–tableaus reminiscent of the artistry of Charles Addams, the illustrations of Edward Gorey and, most arrestingly, the overall visual/psychological flavor of R. Crumb (if he were even more blatantly bloody, sexual and macabre leaving much LESS to the imagination…) (Or at the very least all-horror versions of the silent sketches transpiring behind Conan O’Brien’s big beaming head to Andy Richter’s horrified expressions in the age old ‘Late Nite with Conan O’Brien’—”Conan and Andy Staring Contest”.)
More nightmarish than the cartoons towards the end of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” or my friend Rob’s worst acid trip, the audience is notably affected.
A grown naked man (as opposed to a not-fully-grown naked man) rolls out from betwixt an elderly woman’s loins, realistic umbilical chord in tow. The audience laughs in awe and discord. A family of three jaunty zombies poses as if for a seemingly hyper-functional family portrait while the woman behind me gasps as the paternal zombie’s hand moves its way slowly down his young son’s body. A young woman resembling Baby Jane attempts to escape an imaginary box to increasing shrieks, cries, and bellows as the lights extinguish abruptly and the guy behind me lets out what sounds like a synchronized gag and gurgle.
The lights eventually extinguish only to be bright enough for us to see the white body parts of what looks like a gargantuan preying mantis as it lingers, twitches, then scuttles off stage left. The woman behind me lets out a whispered shriek!
To up the ante further, and dramatically affect the poor reviewer, theatrical lights are brought down completely leaving her no choice but to grab her date’s leg as an antidote to the near complete sensory depravation this engenders as all fades to silence in kind. A remedy will inevitably present itself in the form of sound effects of rats and/or large giant bugs scampering on, in and around the floors, doors and walls surround-sound style.
All in all, a very arresting and indelible 55 minutes of verbally silent theatre, pushing the envelope the likes of which I have never seen at any venue including Zombie Joe’s and that’s really saying something!
PS. If you plan on getting a sound night’s sleep hereafter, think again. This will seriously f*&k you up!!! (But that just means it’s doing what it set out to do!)
“Urban Death” can be seen Saturdays at 8:30 pm at Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre, (4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-202-4120) until June 28th.
For more information on Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre please visit: