Seduced into depression:
From the opening moment of Dostoevsky’s Notes From Underground you are being seduced. Apollo(TJ Alvarado) sings an enticing vampiric song. Pulling you into the Underground with dark velvety words hiding the razor edges of depression and destruction lying in wait to destroy you.
Zombie Joe has out done himself with a very existential adaptation of an already existential work. How Zombie pulls this off you may ask? By blending a one man play with an ensemble. Alex “The Underground Man” (Michael Blomgren) serves as the focus of a one man play even while conversing with other colorful characters. Alex is an enthralling character able to grab your focus and hold the stage alone. When other characters emerge you get the feeling that while in conflict with Alex they only serve as mirrors of his own dark emotions. Emotions projected from a level of depression that crosses the line into narcissism. The more depressed and self destructive Alex becomes the more he projects his self hatred as coming from others. It is here where the existential nature of the story shines through. One would think any other depressed person would continue to spiral into depression not realizing they are the source of their own pain and misery. This is where Alex differs from the prosaically depressed individual. He knows he is the source of his pain and that the hatred others show him is in response to his own actions. He does not seek to correct this spiral however. Instead he seeks to pull the spiral in tighter to spite himself. He seeks out those in his life that he may seduce into depression and thereby force them to hate him furthering his own depression.
Notes From Underground serves as a dark mirror into ourselves. How often in our life do we find ourselves depressed. Rarely though do we realize this is a correctable condition. It is here that Alex can give us a life lesson, we can chose to correct our destructive spiral, or like Alex dive deeper into our destructive actions. Going forward we should know though that we are the masters of our destiny. If we stay morose it is our fault, if we become sanguine it is a result of our actions. Alex teaches us to take control of our lives even if we should take that control only to destroy ourselves. After all, our lives are ours to live or destroy. As long as we take that responsibility we will not be reacting to the world around us, rather we will be shaping our own hells and heavens.
As I said before this adaptation takes an existential story and adds new layers of existentialism. It was a pleasure to watch Alex(Michael Blomgren) hold the stage alone with such power that everything else faded away. When other characters interacted with Alex they were mere extensions of his own life experience. The stage direction and use of space to accomplish this was genius. When other characters appeared on stage they were alwayse slightly behind Alex. Yet without facing each other we were made aware that they were in fact having face to face conversations. This shows the plastic nature of memory. A theme repeated as Alex remarks that his recollection of the events may not alwayse be accurate. This inaccuracy allowed him to shape his mood to his preconceived notions. Throughout the Play Alex was having a conversation with us the audience. Alex did not need to face his memories to converse with them as the conversations were occurring in the past and were in fact trivial as he has already decided how they will affect his life. His memories instead faced the audience and reacted as if Alex were staring straight at them though he rarely looked at them in the physical sense. He need not look at his memories of Simone(Julie Bermel) the soiled dove to know it is her fault she made him vulnerable and furthered his depression. What is important is the audience know Alex is important, his suffering is important. His perceptions of life are central to his struggle, reality be damned. Everything else was just an extension of himself.
There are many reasons to see this play. From the use of space to the thoroughly depressing nature of the story. If depression isn’t your cup of tea perhaps the existential nature of our memories and how we control our own lives through our intentional and unintentional actions. If you need more reasons you could be drawn to the recurring vampiric themes shown through song and the slow consumption of yourself until you begin to drain others. Maybe you need a little seduction in your life, let yourself be drawn into the silky folds of the Underground only to be cut to ribbons by your own pain. There is a touch of pleasure in pain after all. Whatever draws you to see Notes From Underground you will find something here to satisfy your deepest darkest desires.
DOSTOEVSKY’S NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND plays at Zombie Joes’ Underground Theatre Fridays 8:30p; January 11th through March 1st.
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All Photos Credit to: Josh T. Ryan