A Christmas Carol at Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre begins with a Steam Punk Chorus singing many the traditional carols of the season. To these seemingly straight forward renditions, ZJU ads a dash of winter spice to the mix, in the form of comedy. The Steam Punk Chorus adds this dash of comedy through their gestures, and emphasis on certain lines. Such as the men in the Chorus singing the line about all the men they haven’t kissed this year. There is even a bit of shiny distraction, with one member of the Chorus over using the tambourine, to the distraction of others.
The use of music plays a key role in this rendition of A Christmas Carol. Throughout the Play, at key moments, transitions, or scene changes classic carols fill the air. Not only does music fill the air, live violin music provided by Lara Lihiya strikes powerful emotional cords. Music is a powerful tool in storytelling; it can set the mood, provide the undercurrent of emotion for a scene, or draw the threads of the story together. While it’s a powerful tool, it needs to be used judiciously, its magic subtle. Denise Devin (director) wove the carols through the show beautifully. The music showing up, and fading out in just the right places. Speaking of fading in and out, the “curtain” used between scenes was brilliant. Aside from using the darkness of the black box theatre; the Steam Punk Chorus came out with dim spheres of light, acting as spirits singing to us, guiding us from scene to scene. The pitch black, with dim spheres and song added a magical quality to the transitions.
I mentioned earlier that the Steam Punk Chorus brought a dash of comedy to their carols. This dash of comedy continued throughout the entire show. A Christmas Carol is a powerful story, of hope and redemption. While powerful and moving, it can be a dry affair, Victorian London wasn’t known for its humour. Denise’s adaptation added just the right level of humour to elicit laughs from the audience, while still keeping the poignant power of Dickens’ story intact. From a very flamboyant Spirit of Christmas Present (Denise Devin), to Fred (AJ Sclafani) doing card tricks, from time to time. Humour ran throughout the show, while not distracting from the story. It allowed the audience to connect with the characters that much more, I feel. You can’t help but connect with someone when the make you laugh, put a smile on your face.
The acting was also on point. Mrs. Cratchit (Redetha Deason) personified a Victorian wife, loving dutiful, even though she has a strong will of her own. Redetha brought this to the surface quite nicely. You could feel the force of her presence tempered with her affections for Bob Cratchit (Jason Britt). Speaking of Bob, you felt his pain, and his determination to keep a stiff upper lip. Worse still, emotionally speaking, you could see that stiff upper lip quiver and crumble when the Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come allows Scrooge (Sebastian Munoz) to look upon the Cratchit’s. Bob is devastated by the loss of Tiny Tim (Courtney Drumm), it’s etched on his face, his movement, and echoes in his voice.
Scenes with Tiny Tim are a joy to watch, Courtney brings life and vibrance to Tiny Tim. Tiny Tim is alwasye hopeful, and you can sense that though Courtney. The star of the show is of course Scrooge. Sebastian brings Scrooge to life, nailing down the transformation he undergoes through his journey. From miserly, through fearful, to hopeful and begging, eventually winding up a changed man. All without a makeup change. Sebastian brings about this change through posture, mannerisms, and a gradual change in his voice. He goes through such a wide array of emotional voice modulation, it’s powerful.
I should not be surprised, that Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre delivered a powerful performance. In a way I’m not, and I am. ZJU are masters of the macabre, and avante garde. They are so good at the edgy fringe of theatre that it’s easy to forget, they are also a proper playhouse, with talented writers, directors, and actors. I think this is a good thing in a way. One gets so used to the macabre, and strange, that when a classical work is put forward it’s that much more powerful, because they can consistently deliver powerful classical theatre. It’s a treat to be reminded how talented and versatile the folks at Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group are.
A Christmas Carol (adapted and directed by Denise Devin) runs Saturdays and Sundays through December 28th in North Hollywood.
For more information please visit www.zombiejoes.com
All Photos Credit: Zombie Joe’s Underground.
GraveDigger is a series of vignettes linked together by the ominous specter that is the Grave Digger. The Grave Digger is a mysterious phantom which haunts each piece. For the most part Grave Digger is a silent observer, however occasionally he holds the noose, or the blunt instrument of death. The sad souls playing out their death scenes, or participating in the death scenes of others seem to regard Grave Digger little. Almost as if death itself is a constant companion on our journey throughout life.
As a collected body, pun intended, GraveDigger the Play shows slices of life, or rather death. The scenes range in their placement, from just before death, after death, or during the moment of death. Some even take on the appearance of a wake, or vigil held by those left behind.
The show opens, with a grim faced funeral attendant welcoming us, and inviting us to the wake, from there a ZJU cover of one of my favorite songs, and it was quite aptly chosen. “The Curse of the Hearse”, is all about what happens to you if you laugh as a hearse goes by. A little hint, it’s not called a curse because it tickles you. Well maybe it will tickle you, if shivers tickle your spine. This audio selection sets the tone for the evening. The chosen songs match the tone of each piece nicely. Theatre is more than just what you can see on stage. The right audio selection, from music to effects can draw you in; wrapping you in the death shroud of the reality you’re witnessing unfold before you.
If you’ve attended Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre before, you’ve no doubt come across Urban Death. Another Play composed of vignettes about death. In many ways GraveDigger is similar to Urban Death, however it is a separate experience unto its own. While Urban Death deals with the varying forms death in the modern urban landscape can take. The shock and awe aspects of death as it were. GraveDigger deals with the introspective side of death, the idea that death is always with us. GraveDigger gives more time to each piece. This allows you to invest in the characters more fully before showing you their fates. You can’t help by take in everything presented before you, the slower pace gives you a chance to recognize yourself in the characters more readily, or at least sympathize with them.
When we recognize ourselves in the characters on stage, or sympathize with them, we can’t help but feel their loss more closely. Do we identify with the witch being burned, or with those burning her. What do we think of the ancient cult chanting in the darkness, or the modern cultists as they come to terms with their final moments? Do we feel their trepidation and excitement?
In a piece composed of so many vignettes it would be easy to give away too much. Even naming each scene would give away vital information, information that you the audience should experience firsthand. If you know too much of the deaths going in, you’ll be occupied with preconceived notions. You’d be too occupied to take in the plethora of emotions placed in front of you.
I can give you a little hint, a short list of my favorite vignettes. This isn’t a complete list, and they were all my favorite, these stood out the most to my macabre personality. You might recognize that many of the pieces have two Grave Diggers, the phantom that stalks each piece, as well as the incarnation of real grave diggers from history. Séance is one of my favorite scenes in the entire piece, the idea of giving one’s self over to spirits from the outside. Jeffrey Dahmer, stands out as a great piece, the innocent bystanders letting him get away with his dark deeds. The Salem Witch Hunt, and Black Dahlia both brought a morbid smile to my face. The play ends with probably my favorite scene of the night, due to content, as well as the power of the acting. I won’t tell you which scene wraps up our journey along side death. That’s a treat you’ll have to show up to see for yourself.
GraveDigger (by Bea Egeto) runs Friday and Saturday through November 22nd.
For more info please visit www.zombiejoes.com
All Photos Credit: Zombie Joe
What makes Tour of Terror better than other mazes, the expertise? The folks at ZJU are a working Theatre company, a company that specializes in grindhouse, macabre, existential scares, and suspense. They’ve taken this experience and twisted their entire theater into a haunted maze, with the stage proper playing host to a series of vignettes that fit into their Urban Death Plays.
To start, you’re ushered into the dark, with nothing but a dim flashlight to serve as a safety blanket. It’s quite dim, and quite brilliant. With such a dim light, you’re forced to move the illuminated disk from corner to corner, trying to spot your doom. This alone gets your heart pumping, and your psyche primed for fear. As soon as you shine the light away from what you thought was a motionless prop, it springs to life. The maze isn’t just filled with props, it’s filled with talented actors who live to scare people year round. It’s like someone opened the doors to the madhouse, lured the patients into a maze, then locked you in there with them.
When you get to the end of the maze, you’re rewarded, your reward, more terror. At the end of the maze is an insane looking pig playing the cello, while a creepy doll dances silently. From there it gets more bizarre. As with all Urban Death shows, darkness and sound are used to draw you in. When the lights go out, and you hear shuffling, you can’t help but lean in closer, forcing your eyes to see through the darkness. This is all in vein, but it heightens your senses. When the stage is illuminated, what is seen can never be predicted.
When the show is over, you must return through the maze to reach the safety of the night outside. That alone is a unique psychological trip. For most of the world, the night has alwayse posed a tiny bit of fear. Who knows what is around each corner, what on earth did you just see out of the corner of your eye? After your tour through terror, the unknown of the night is a welcome refuge. It’s velvet darkness will take you in, and give you a chance to breathe free. Don’t be tricked into thinking a return trip through the maze will be an easy one. Who knows what the ghosts and ghouls may have done to the maze while you were enthralled by death on stage.
Urban Death Tour of Terror is a must experience for anyone who enjoys the darker season. It’s Halloween distilled and bottled. I can’t say more, as that would give away the ghost so to speak. You must show up, and face your fears.
Tour of Terror opens its maze Fridays and Saturdays through November 1st at Zombie Joe’s Underground in North Hollywood.
For more more information please visit www.zombiejoes.com
For this year’s Halloween season The Visceral Company has recited fell rites forcing the stars to align. The rituals result, The Call of Cthulhu, a one man Play written and performed by the talented Frank Blocker.
CoC starts with a voice shouting a strange language into the darkness. Followed by a brief ritual of protection, this serves to set the tone for the rest of the show. The strange and unknown will become common place; we will be pulled into a madness from which there is no return. If you believe the Cthulhu mythos that is.
This rendition of CoC touches on the greather mythos, that is, the mythology constructed by H.P. Lovecraft is greater than any one story. To this end, the opening scene is retold by a cultist using voodoo dolls. The scene presented to us; The Hound (from weird tales 1926). The Hound ties into the Great Old Ones, and their cult, and iconography. The repetition of cults, particularly voodoo, or aberrant cults is a theme that repeats itself in the works of Lovecraft, and in this rendition of CoC.
As I said before CoC is a one man Play, and this is where Frank shines. Not just as a writer, but as an actor. Frank’s ability to switch from character to character is seamless. Each character has a life of its own. It’s as if the spirit of each takes hold of his body. Frank’s body is merely the vessel for his own creativity.
A Cthulhu mythos story would be nothing without monsters though, and Dan Spurgeon (director) tackles this in a very Lovecraftian way. Shadow Pupetry, not only is shadow puppetry a great medium for Theatre, it’s perfect for Lovecraft. You don’t actually see the monsters, you see their shadow, that which is left in their wake. Rosie Santilena (lead puppeteer) brings a voodoo cult and their victims to life, as well as darker elements of the mythos. There is even a surprise at the end, one that will have you on the edge of your seat.
This version of CoC draws you in fully, and not just through Frank’s use of colourful characters. The set is striking. What you see on stage could really be the disheveled remains of an Anthropology professor’s study. Behind the study, we see a glimpse into the madness of his last obsession. What is shown to us, a cyclopean background that is home to an unspeakable horror. Beyond that, the veil of a shadow screen, which allows us to peer into the dark recesses of the memories presented to us through the CoC story.
The set, allows us to step into the memories of mad men. The Call of Cthulhu is after all, mostly an ex post facto recount of a disembodied mystery. The pieces of the puzzle are reconstructed by Francis Wayland Thurston, the surviving heir, and nephew to the famous Professor Angel, and anthropologist of some note. Francis retraces the steps of his uncle, and delves into a legend that either drives men to madness, or death.
As Francis delves into his uncles notes, he beckons us come with him. Which might not be a wise choice, but the temptation of hidden; any forbidden knowledge has always had a strong pull. In the end, will we end up like Professor Angel, or perhaps any of the other colourful characters we meet along the way. What will happen to our Narrator, Francis? To find this out we’ll have to risk the madness that is forbidden knowledge.
If you know The Hound, and Call of Cthulhu, there is nothing I could say to spoil this story. We all know the ending. What I can’t, no won’t do is go into the details of how Frank Blocker presents this story to us. To give that away would spoil this experience. I’ve alwayse felt the Theatre should be experienced, and when dealing with subject matter as palpable, as visceral as Lovecraft that holds true more than ever. Not only is Theatre, and Lovecraft an experience. Frank himself is an experience. He is a powerful force on stage, and one that must be experienced firsthand. I honestly couldn’t do him justice here.
I can’t go into details, as Lovecraft is all about suspense. To spoil that suspense would be a sin. What I can do is tell you that each moment of this Play holds you with rapt attention. Everything around you dissolves away as Frank’s dulcet tones wrap the noose of madness around your being. You’re experiencing Lovecraft, you know your doom awaits you at the end of the journey. Frank puts you at ease throughout the entire way. All the while maintaining a level of suspense needed to keep you alert. You become enthralled, and willingly follow the characters on stage to your doom.
Dan’s ability to draw the dissociated parts of the mythos together, using Frank’s fluid character transition, the set, sound, and puppetry, creates a master piece.
H.P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu is a must see. Just don’t forget to bring your elder sign, the little tree, or the eye with a flame in side. You’ll need one or both before the end.
H.P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu (written by Frank Blocker, Directed by Dan Spurgeon) shows at The Visceral Company thorugh December 7th.
For more information please visit www.thevisceralcompany.com
Red Like Snow (by Nicholas Rose, and Aerial Segard) takes a look at the human psyche pushed to its limits. RLS examines what happens when a group of strangers and friends are put in the ultimate of untenable positions, an ice cave buried on the side of Mount Rainier.
RLS begins by killing the stage lights on a beautifully sculpted and painted background of ice. Cold blue lights push back the darkness, giving way to a colder, harsher white light. The stage is full of bodies, how many are alive, and how many didn’t make it? How many won’t make it through this ordeal is a question you find yourself asking as the events unfold. Who will break first, who loses hope, who snaps? That’s the well crafted Drama about to unfold on stage at the BRICK HOUSE THEATRE.
RLS is a thriller, like all thrillers, one mustn’t give away too much. I can however talk about the themes Nicholas and Aerial were able to bring to the stage with the help of their wonderful cast. Grief being a main theme that runs throughout the entire performance. Not the simple sobbing grief one sees on screen, in an over acted movie. Cold gritty, palpable grief. Each character goes through the full arc of the Kübler-Ross model of grief. While going through each stage, it’s clear that specific characters represent one stage more so than the others.
Ryan (Ioanna Meli) clearly exhibits DENIAL. She can’t accept what has happened to her, and her friend. She’ll do anything to make it stop. Make the pain stop, make the world stop, make this tragedy stop. She even dips into ANGER at times. Tyler (Matt McVay) personifies ACCEPTENCE almost from the beginning. He knows they are up a river without a paddle, or rather at the bottom of a cave without any climbing gear. Alex (Aerial Segard) will BARGAIN with anyone and anything to make sure everyone is safe, she just wants this ordeal to end. Mark (Devon Todd) and Monica (Melissa Graver) are ANGRY, at each other, at their situation, at themselves. They aren’t having any of this. Bradley (Michael Lewis Hudson) and Jenna (Chisten Briele) and both DEPRESSED, with Jenna showing strong signs of DENIAL.
RLS also deals with loss, loss of control, loss of self, loss of the will to live, and finally loss of life. Each character travels through a complex mix of emotions, while touching back on their key emotion. Moving through emotions, while remaining true to a touchstone, a core emotion is a sign of a well written script, and strong acting. The direction (Nicholas Rose) and use of space on a small stage with at times seven actors was pulled of quite nicely. Out of necessity for the size of the stage the actors naturally had to huddle near each other at times. This served to add a layer of claustrophobia to the scenes. They were after all trapped in a freezing cavern. Besides being pressed for space, they would have to stay near for survival alone.
There were a few physical acting issues that can pull you out of the story, in the beginning at least. The entire Play takes place in an ice cave, with people who just fell what seems like a hundred feet or more. Their movements weren’t sluggish from the onset, their dexterity and control of their hands was a bit too fluid. If you’re freezing you wouldn’t be able to open bags, crawl rapidly, and manipulate rope so easily. Nor would you take off your gloves to assemble a tent. As the story progressed and each character picked up the weight of their own afflictions, body and mind, they took ownership of their bodies. Mark did an excellent job of hiding the loss of function on his hand due to frost bite. Alex had the nervous tension of someone carrying too heavy a burden. Jenna was sick with worry, and Tyler was just plain sick from trauma. Towards the end of the Play each actor was a master of their body, and their portrayal of their individual struggle was painted on their respective living canvases.
Writing, and performing a story, that seems so familiar to the human experience, while breathing new life into it isn’t easy. The good folks who brought Red Like Snow to life were able to do just this. Hikers lost and trapped on a snowy mountain seem like a well used story. It is, but Rose, Segard, and their cast pull it off in a unique way that makes it stand apart from previous versions of the story. It’s like an old fairy tale, we all know the ending, but sometimes it’s the journey and the narrator that make it special.
Red Like Snow (Written by Nicholas Rose, and Aerial Segard, Directed by Nicholas Rose) shows at the BRICK HOUSE THEATRE through September 14th.
For more information please visit. www.facebook.com/redlikesnow
This week in my game (new campaign 2 new players). First meeting at the tavern.
A tiefling and a drow disembark from a paddle ship in a backwater bayou town. Red Gnome, a town known best for being a stop over to anywhere better. Well a stop over, and zombies, even the dire mosquitoes turn zombie. There are quite a few undead cults, and some even had out hick tracts, going door to door prostetaliaing the joys and freedom of being undead.
As the drow and tiefling make their way through a crowed docks, a dwarf dressed far to flamboyantly contemplates going over, through or around the town hall on the way to the tavern. Scratching his Mohawk the dwarf tosses a coin in the air “heads over, tails through”. The coin hits the eve and ricochets down the alley. A passerby picks it up, staring at it his eyes lose focus and he passes out. “Inside out again, I guess I go around, come on you stupid donkey”. A relieved warhorse gives a whinny and follows.
Arriving at the tavern he orders the best Dwarven ale available. Next to him a human with wrapped knuckles finishes his drink. “You call this strong, give me something that’ll curl my hair”. An annoyed bartender opens a top shelf and pulls out a ceramic bottle. Pouring a shot as carefully as possible. The human takes up the shot, now glowing faintly green, “now that’s what I’m talking about.”.
As the tiefling leaves the docks and makes her way to the dusty main road she looks up, seeing the sun at high noon. With a sigh she pulls her hood further down, covering her face. Suddenly a shadowy form coalesces, taking the shape of a prismatic dragon born, in priestly vestments. “If you don’t like the looks people give you why do you insist on meditating with a demon every morning”. “It keeps us alive”. “It doesn’t keep me alive, my faith in the arcane keeps me alive”. The tiefling pushes onward attempting to ignore the apparition. From the shadows the drow gives her and the shadow a wary look.
Approaching the tavern the tiefling steps over a drunken human. Before she can step through the threshold the dragonkin leans over and says “if you can’t hold your drink, maybe you…” Stepping through the door and closing it the tiefling breathes a sigh of relief. Scanning the bar for a safe table she notices her companion happily waving from a table that covers the whole room.
Outside the drow sees the shadow dissipate. The human looking around for the source of the voice spots a warhorse. “Drink, of course I’ll have another, I’m still waiting for the last one to kick in.”. With a smirk the drow walks by “that’s a horse, not a bar wench”, proceeding to enter the tavern.
Seeing all the most defensible positions taken, the drow sits against the far wall, shifting so one eye looks west towards the tiefling and her strange companion, the eye, a mechanical piece spins around never focusing on one spot too long. He calls over a server.
“What will you two ladies have”, the tiefling orders mead, and asks for an empty class for her friend. “What she said I’ll have a water.”. Shaking her head the tiefling inquires about a patron she heard of on the paddle ship, one who might offer a job. Glaring at the two women for a moment she nods to the far corner near the bar proper “that’s the man you’ll want.”.
Looking towards the dwarf, Laschiel notices another flamboyant dwarf approach and pound beer steins down at the table. “Have you heard the good word of Loki, Dwarven god of chaos?”. Before she can restrain her companion she notices wisps of shadow forming behind the flamboyant dwarf. “Chaotic magic does not need help, but I suppose an agent of chaos with sufficient power can drive magic forward as well as any other.”. The dwarf stares at the shadowy figure for a moment and takes a long pull from his stein.
Suddenly the tavern doors swing open and no one enters. The doors don’t quite close all the way and on the floor a drunken human is crawling in. Back at the table in the corner the business like dwarf asks the two if they would like a job. The flamboyant dwarf says he might like some coin. Excited, but apprehensive the dragonkin asks for more info. “Why don’t you invite your friend over to discuss the details.”. “We are partners and I can decide for us.” “Humor me?” “I never get to decide anything it’s not…”.
From across the room Laschiel says she’ll be right over. On her way she grabs a pitcher of water, pouring it on the drunk human. By the time she gets there the drow is standing near. The human chokes on water for a moment, sitting up seeing a large party gathered around a table he stumbles over to see what all the fun is about.
“There you have it, a simple job killing a local Mage, whose darlings in the chaotic are making a mess for everyone. I”ll pay you all ten gold, plus you may keep whatever items you may find,mor monies of course.”. With a sigh of incredulity the dragonkin speaks up “she makes more in one hour plying her disgusting trade at local inns”.
The drunken human leans against the shadowy dragon for a moment, Laschiel’s eyes glow purple, only to fall through her into a chair. Laschiel lets out a laugh. “And what is this trade your friend specializes in”, the human asks standing to wobbly feat. “She whips men, and women for money, ties them up, it’s all rather unseemly”.
Eyes wide with glee the human strokes the tielfings horn. “So my dear, you’re a lady of the red light, how much for a go here and now?”. “I’m not a call girl, I provide a needed outlet for those who need to be dominated.”. Stroking her horn a little more vigorously “don’t play hard to get, how much I’ll pay upfront.”. “If you haven’t notice we’re trying to discuss business with this man.”. “So am I, come one you’re a whore just take my money!”.
To the side the drow bargains a hard deal, insisting on half of the gold up front, as a good faith gesture.
Turning to face the human squarely, she smiles. In a voice laced with honey, and a tinge of venom “oh sweetie”. She reaches forward, he flinches, she strokes his cheek. “Sweetie, you wouldn’t have the stamina for what I’d to to you”.
Her eyes flash purple, than go dark. As she finishes stroking his cheek, his eyes roll back and she shutters. Pulling her hand away from his cheek she draws out a portion of his soul. Looking at the delicate aether in her hand, she shakes away the remnant like so much flotsam washed up from the bayou.
He convulses and falls to the floor. “Oh my god you killed him!”. “That’s enough from you”. Waving her hand she scatters the shadows that comprise her ‘friend’. The drow looks to her, “you can just dismiss her?”. “Not all the time, it’s complicated, her hysterics should keep her at bay for a few hours at least.”.
Looking to the human the drow asks “is he really dead”. Kicking him with a cloven foot Laschiel shrugs “seems that way.”. “Oh dear, this could be a problem, this was supposed to be a four man job.”. “I could heal him if I had my supplies the flamboyant dwarf mentions.”. “I’ve actually got something”, the drow reaches into his bag. Pulling out a cylinder with a big red button. Pushing it once a metal needle unsheathes at lightning speed, making a biting sound as the metal scrapes against it’s housing.
Along the side in common it says ‘this way to semi dead’, with an arrow pointing towards the needle. He plunges the needle into the heart of the human and pushes he red button once again. The humans body goes stiff his eyes fly open and golden light shines through them. Standing up screaming he shouts “that was the best sex ever! How much do I owe you”. Grabbing the cylinder from his chest, and yanking at an angle Laschiel says “he hired us to do a job, half now, half on completion. I get your half now.” “Works for me, how much to go again?”. “There won’t be an again, and if there is, there won’t be medical aide so readily available either.”. She shakes the needle under his nose and drops it to the table.
Later as the party makes their way along the bayou road, the dragonkin appears. “What happened, did you really kill him”. Stepping forward the drow looks at the shadow “he was just drunk, I gave him something to sober up”. With a sigh she says “Oh that’s good! I’d hate Laschiel to go to jail. Somehow she alwayse ends up dragging her with me.” Wandering off she fades away. “So you really can’t control her?”. “Oh it gets worse than that.”.