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A Broadcast Through the Years.

tokyo roseMiwa Yanagi’s Zero Hour: Tokyo Rose’s Last Tape is a radio drama. That is to say, the original Radio Dramas were Plays, acted out on sound stages and broadcast through the airwaves.

Miwa Yanagi captures the essence of a radio drama, through her set design, choice of props, and stage direction. To capture the ephemeral spirit of radio as a medium, Miwa coupled that spirit with the living art that is the Theatre. Combining two temporary mediums, to form a powerful motive energy for her story was pure brilliance.

Tokyo Rose’s Last Tape gives us a glimpse into the lives of the female prisoners of war who were pressed into DJing Zero Hour. The show begins by immersing you into the south pacific, or an approximation thereof. Old radios are brought out and placed around the Theater. These serve not only as a means of broadcasting the distorted audio to the audience, but as a tool to substitute the reality of the stage for our everyday lives. Throughout the show the hiss and crackle of old radio dials can be heard from these radios. The amplified and distorted voices of the actresses come though a little tinny, further suspending reality, and allowing the audience to dive into the story.

The story itself takes place in the past and present. In the past Daniel Yamada (Yohei Matsukado) is a US soldier with a keen ear. He can tell all the Roses apart, and has given nicknames to each. For this reasons he has been tasked with identifying each Rose at the end of the war, as part of an investigation into possible war crimes surrounding the demoralizing broadcast. As an aside to this investigation, Daniel is a fan of Zero Hour, and wants to meet both Orphan Annie, and the main Tokyo Rose.

In the present the war is over, and many years have passed. Daniel is an old, nearly blind man. He awaits the arrival of an old friend Toshiya Shiomi (Sogo Nishimura). Toshiya was the producer, and technician of Zero Hour. They met during Daniel’s investigation. Striking up a quick if at first uneasy friendship, they agree to play each other 100 games of chess. The present awaits Toshiya’s arrival to finish their decades long marathon of games in person.

The majority of the story takes place in the past. We are given a glimpse into how an entire society is influenced by war on an industrial scale. The Roses themselves are all prisoners of a sort. They are first or second generation Japanese immigrants. Either to Canada, the UK, the US etc… They were visiting relatives or sightseeing when the war broke out. Forced to work to survive, many took work in the steno pools, where they translated intercepted broadcasts into Japanese. Eventually the many Roses found their way to the broadcast studios of Zero hour.

The stage direction, and story itself help paint a picture of life under war. Life in a land and culture most of the world don’t readily experience. Everything from the sterile stage built to resemble old broadcast studios, to the robotic movements of the female characters paints a picture of a culture and daily life under stress. The mobile mechanical reconstruction of the set, strains at the need to bring order to the chaos around.

When an important broadcast from the emperor comes over the domestic radio, the girls turn on each other. They had been speaking English, and a few catch themselves, remembering this is a time and place for Japanese to be spoke, not English. Under Daniel’s interviews the Roses, and even Toshiya show the strain of having lived a life under pressure. They want desperately to speak, but their culture, and the authority they had been under stay their tongues. For a time. Eventually Daniel persuades each to open up, in the end, only Toshiya keeps a secret, one he takes with him through the end of the performance.

Daniel convincing the Roses to open up, shows a culture opening up. Modern Japan, while steeped in tradition is more open than it once was. Such changes are made slowly, and you can see these changes in the mannerisms of the Roses, and Toshiya. This speaks volumes to the stage direction, and acting skills of the entire cast. To show subtle physical changes, changes that mirror internal changes on the part of the characters, as well as a culture at large. Acting of this caliber takes great discipline.

A story about Tokyo Rose can’t be told without telling the injustice one of the Roses faced. In this story Jane Yoshiko Sugawa (Ami Kobayashi), plays the female lead. In a cast whose mannerisms and costume are designed to show sameness, Jane stands out. A different hair cut, subtle gestures that allow her to stick out. She is a sore thumb in the culture she is immersed. She retained her American citizenship throughout the war. She refused to give up her citizenship. She also became Orphan Annie, “hello my fellow orphans across the pacific”, being her famous introduction.

Jane’s story perhapse shows the tragedy of war like no other I’ve seen in some time. Just because the war is over, does not mean the lusts have ended. Daniel’s lust to find the Roses, which mirrors the lust of the soldiers who heard her broadcasts throughout the war. A lust for attention, every newspaper man wanted an exclusive with “The Tokyo Rose”, they didn’t care there could be, and were more than one. Finally Blood Lust. The public lusts to blame someone for all the ills suffered during the war. They need to blame someone for their lost loved ones, the forever maimed and scared. When the public has such blood lust, there step in politicians, and policy makers to capitalize on the frenzy. Jane, who had been loyal to the US throughout the war was brought up on treason charges, convicted, and stripped of her citizenship. The same citizenship she had fought to maintain throughout the entire war.

I have spoken of the acting, the set, and the stage direction. I would be remiss not to speak to the beautiful audio that brings Zero Hour to life. Yasutaka Kobayakawa makes sound a living character. The layers of music, distorted voices, static, all bring this radio drama to life. Yes, Zero Hour is a Play, but it is a play about a radio show, and staged in the vein of a Radio Drama. Yasutaka worked to bring sound to life. If it were not for the English captions on the back wall during Japanese speaking segments, it would be possible to listen to the entire performance, instead of watching it. As someone who grew up with radio dramas this was a treat. Yasutaka’s care in designing the sound elements was a treat to listen to. The sound design more than anything else in Zero Hour, helps suspend reality, transporting the audience to the south pacific, where they would be listening to Tokyo Rose broadcast her propaganda.

The key piece to Yasutaka’s sound masterpiece. Recreating Tokyo Rose’s broadcast. I said earlier that Toshiya has a secret. Well, that secret, he is the 6th Rose. Using sound editing he created a ghostly voice, one that haunted Daniel and other soldier alike. As if she were broadcasting from beyond the grave. This has an eerie quality, and it was beautifully done.

Zero Hour: Tokyo Rose’s Last Tape is a beautifully complex piece. It uses economy of motion, stage, and sound to transport the audience to another time and place. It might be cliché, but it is a more simple time, a time so simple it is complex. With layer upon layer, each affecting the layers above and below it. Entire nations were at war, entire ways of life were at war. When the world goes to war, cultures are forever altered. Tokyo Rose’s Last Tape gives a brief glimpse into how one such culture responds and changes to the pressures of war.

For more information on upcoming works please visit redcat.org

Art Changes Life Changes Art.

Mariano Pensotti’s Cineastas is a story layered with the familiar and unfamiliar. Cineastas follows the lives of four very different film makers, each at different stages in their lives and careers. As they explore, and make their art, their art changes them, and in turn they alter their movies.

Throughout the Play, the stage is as much a character as anyone else. The stage is presented as a split screen, almost as if a commentary within a movie. The narration takes the form of a director’s commentary as well. The lower level of the stage is where real life takes place; the lives of the Directors, their friends, family, and passers through. The upper screen/stage is where scenes from the Director’s movies take place.

The use of a split screen gives the audience a unique view into the artistry of film making. Allowing us to see how life and art shape each other simultaneously. Mariano shows this reshaping of lives through art with a powerful underlying layer. The lower screen slowly transforms to match the upper screen. The changing screen represents the real world influenced by the fictional world show in the “movies”.

Cineastas is a Play about movies, and how their creation shapes the lives of those involved. To this effect there are several calls to movies themselves. As I said before the Play is narrated in a similar fashion to a director’s commentary. The people go about their lives in the lower screen, and the actors (in the movies) go about their story on the upper screen simultaneously. The narrator is more readily heard over the events unfolding on both screens. The events of life and art are explained, and put into context. As conflicts in life alter the movies, this is explained. As scenes in the movies inspire change in the Director’s lives, this is put into context as well.

What you are presented with is a surreal landscape. The audience is watching life through the lens of a director’s commentary. An abstract view on what has happened, and how each action, often unseen, and unknown by most, alters the world around them. Another powerful tool which paints this director’s commentary approach to viewing a story is the open caption translations. Cineastas is presented in Spanish, but the captions are in English. The captions are projected onto the 24 inches separating the upper and lower screens. This draws the focus of the English speaking audience to the center of the action. The use of captions adds another call back to the idea that we are watching a director’s cut. It has the look and feel of a foreign film. At times the captions are long sentences, much longer than what was said. The opposite is true, long courses of dialogue are boiled down to simple sentences. This is a common trait among subtitled films, and it is an enjoyable one, for those who watch foreign films with subtitles. It adds a level of familiar comfort.

The director’s lives, and their movies are best left to the discovery of the audience. I will point out my favorite movies inside the Play; a documentary about musicals throughout the rise and fall of the Soviet Union. In a foreign language Play, about movies shaping our lives, a movie analyzing movies is entirely surreal. The fact that the movies analyzed themselves were foreign movies, added a layer of transcendence. One part in particular was an entirely red scene; it had a vague memory of a spaghetti western.

Cineastas is at times surreal, transcendental, nostalgic, and contemplative. The use of various symbolic tools by Mariano, coupled with the superb acting skills of the cast paint a story that is both familiar, and foreign. Distant, and close.

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Cineastas (Written and Directed by Mariano Pensotti) shows through February 21 at the Redcat.

For more information please visit www.redcat.org

Cineastas is presented in Spanish with English open captioning.

A Macabre Danse

GhostsOfTheUnderground@ZJU_PostcardBestZombie Joe’s Underground Theatre has been experimenting of late. Starting last year they have experimented with removing the stage, and pushing the bounds of their Theatre. Each time ZJU pushes the boundary of their stage to include the entire Theatre, they deliver a more powerful performance than the last.

As you walk through the door, you’re greeted by the sound of live music. A violinist, guitarist, and a clarinetist, are playing a rustic tune. The tune played very much at home in a faire campground. As you look around, you realize you’re already amidst the Play. A Detective is busy silently working a crime board. His desk covered with evidence. In the Theatre proper, a festival danse is underway. The atmosphere of the festival; a cross between a gypsy camp, and perhaps regional yearly celebration, with a touch of the sinister. It wouldn’t be ZJU if it were any normal danse though. The troupe painted up like shadows of the living are going about the danse in stop motion. Each moving only while a gypsy lass shakes her tambourine. The troupe freezes in place when she smacks the skin of the tambourine hard.GhostsOfTheUnderground@ZJU_PHOTO_4

As you watch the Danse Macabre you start to notice characters. There is a reporter, a roguish figure, a ladies’ man, a noble woman, a dancer of the evening. You could sit, or stand anywhere as there is no seating in this performance, and watch the silent troupe for some time. They appear to be telling a silent story. At the very least they are dancing the echoes of their characters. The reporter alwasye with his pen and paper gathering quotes, the noble woman too good for the fray.

Eventually the Play proper starts, with a highborn woman taunting the Detective, she is his wife, and they have a give and take. She wants more of his time, he longs to be with her, but his work is his mistress. Shortly after the story begins, the central event takes place. With a Detective present, it would have to be a murder mystery… So begins his task of finding who killed his beloved wife.

The entire Danse Macabre, and I say that because the story has a preternatural feel to it, feels like shadows echoing the actions their masters took in life. It feels as if the story takes place in purgatory. The repetition of freezing in place, the somber songs chosen, and the Danse revelers continuing in their merriment while the main characters converse. Ghosts of the Undergorund is filled with a foreboding sense of shadows, echoes, and reflections. The revelers become the background, while the Detective questions suspects and gathers evidence. Keeping the revelers on stage whispering, going about their lives, while we watch the Detective, creates an effect of a much larger cramped world. The Detective is moving about an entire city enthralled in the hedonistic pleasure of danse. He must stalk out his suspects and pull them from their activities. When he does this, they stop being echoes and gain a voice of their own, for a moment at least.

GhostsOfTheUnderground@ZJU_PHOTO_2As the story progresses you realize the use of danse, and music are characters themselves. The songs sung, and hummed, as well as the dances, all come together to paint an entire world. The choice of direction, the blocking, the somber tone of the songs; each choice made in the direction adds to the layers of Ghosts of the Underground. What you see simply wouldn’t exist without the song and danse choices. This is much more impressive when you realize, the audience was allowed to and encouraged to move around the theatre/stage the entire time. The dancers moved among the audience, pressed up against the walls next to and in between the audience. You’re pulled head long into the story because it happens in and around you. You can’t escape the Danse Macabre.

I have to make mention of several characters that I particularly stood out for me. The Detective, his use of facial expressions to convey his emotions were brilliant. It’s one thing to be angry or sad at your wife’s death. It’s another to let that build into a fury, all the while keeping your cool. You can see this on his face. Perhapse I’m biased though. I’m a sucker for hard boiled detectives, pulp serials, and the like. I have been since I saw the director’s cut of Angel Heart when I was four. So much so that it’s my pen name while reviewing. Speaking of Angel Heart, those of you who have seen AH will thoroughly enjoy the preternatural similarities to the main character.

The wife’s sister and the city payroll clerk were both brilliant seductresses. They could lead a man to hell and leave him begging to go further still. The Reporter was spot on. Too often reporters are in the background of life. They have stories to tell aside from the ones they report. Like what drives them, why do they need to seek out and tell the truth? You see a reflection of this in the Reporter. The Merchant’s wife also makes a strong showing, she stands up for herself, all while trying to keep the secrets of others guarded.GhostsOfTheUnderground@ZJU_PHOTO_3

After these characters, the musicians must be given a nod as well. Throughout the story they weave their magic. I’ve said that the music is a character itself; that character wouldn’t exist without the musicians. They did an excellent job setting the tone of the scenes. The costumes and props bare mentioning as well. The gypsy garb the beautiful dancers wore, the choice of jewlrey and colour. The hats, coats, and neckerchiefs the men wore. All come together to bring you into a world similar to our own, but different.

Zombie Joe’s keeps pushing the envelope as it experiments with different forms of Theatre, each time they push, the results are grand. Ghosts of the Underground is a strong macabre and preternatural showing. It feels like a story played endlessly in purgatory, one the characters are dying to escape, but they know not they are repeating their actions over and over.

If you like the macabre, the weird side of things, you should check out Ghosts of the Underground.

GhostsOfTheUnderground@ZJU_CASTphoto

Ghosts of the Underground (written by Adam Neubauer, and Sebastian Munoz, Directed by Sebastian Munoz) runs Friday’s and Saturday’s at 8:30pm through February 21st at Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre.

For more info please visit www.zombiejoes.com

All Photo Credit: Sebastian Munoz

*Warning brief nudity during the performance*

Last Photo

(TOP Row, Left to Right):  Steven Alloway, Nicole Craig, Ramona Creel (w/bright red hair), Ian Heath, Sara Kessler, Michael Guthrie, Benjamin Warren.

(CENTER Row, Left to Right):  Mark Hein, Courtney Drumm, Emilio Andrade, Sasha Snow (w/Violin).

(BOTTOM Row, Left to Right):  Sue Shaheen, Heldine Aguiluz, Jahel Corban Caldera, Olivia Spirz.

Book Banning is Stupid

Brought on because of this article.

The following was a post on my Fan Page. While the article referes to specific book bans, I attempted to address how banning in general is bad for society, and completely stupid. A fan replied, which spurred me to think deeper on the subject and expand my original opinion. You may or may not agree with the actions of this law, but I am attempting to show how banning books is harmful to society, even if society as a whole disagrees with certain books. Ideas shouldn’t be banned; they should be confronted, and debated, but not banned outright. Comments are of course welcome.

While reading this, keep in mind “books” is the focus, because it was the nucleation of this blog. All forms of media and communication can be included, movies, comics, news etc… There is also a case to be made for moderation on private message boards, to stop spam, uncivil discussion, or even death threats. I’m still loath to delete such things (except spam, unless funny it’s just annoying), because at the very least they reveal the thought process of the poster. Only personal private data, Doxxing is alwayse a “no go” for me. Threats, hate speech, while vile, reveal must of the poster, and of the difficulties we must face in society. Better we know such things exist, than keep them hidden and live in ignorance.

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/may/18/anti-intellectualism-us-book-banning?CMP=share_btn_fb

Book banning, because tying wool over our kids eyes and telling them don’t look is the best way to raise an informed populous.

Some books are shit, some books have faulty info, and some just have bad theories. These theories may not be entirely faulty, they simply aren’t fully flushed out, or come to incorrect conclusions. Worse, there are books that intentionally mislead, these could be for political, religious, or social reasons, as well as for profit.

The cure isn’t book banning, it’s alwayse more books. If you disagree with the subject matter, write a book of your own. Refute their points. Don’t ban it because it makes you uncomfortable.

If it is fiction and you don’t like its contents, write fiction you do like, and try to win over the potential audience. Hook them on your brand of storytelling and they might not notice the other book. There will be those who do, but that’s not a bad thing. The more readers in a society the more society flourishes. Even if they are reading things you disagree with. At the very least reading sharpens the mind. Sharp minds can tackle problems, understand the world around them.

Reading is how we grow! We can explore worlds, ideas, emotions, morals, all different than our own. Books expose us to the thoughts and ideas/ideals of those that differ from us.

Banning books is never the right thing.

The following is a post from a fan which caused me to think more deeply upon this subject. I’d like to thank Dan, I love when someone can send me down the rabbit hole of thought.

Dan Right: “Accurate information shared with individuals capable of critical thinking and the ability to network is the most powerful weapon of all . So false or misleading information given to a passive society driven by the need to live vicariously through other people’s success and failures is genius to weaken a nation .”

What Follows is my reply. It might wander a tad, but it was stream of thought. I’ve only gone back through, and flushed out some ideas, and corrected spelling. Large thumbs and a touch screen phone don’t pair well.

That cuts close to propaganda and indoctrination. For that to work texts that go against the accepted group think (right or wrong) would need to be banned. As dissenting information would cause problems.

In such a climate even critical thinkers would have trouble sussing out the truth. If they are surrounded by lies, they may know the truth is hidden, but know of no way to reach the truth. Worse, what if the lies are crafted well enough, then even critical thinkers would strain to perceive the faults. Some of the best falsehoods are built upon a foundation of truth. If a population is given enough truths, and then lies are built upon them, it becomes hard for even keen minds to realize they are being lied to. When they begin to doubt the veracity of what they are being told, they fall back on the truths they know. Or rather their handlers remind them of the truth, and use that as a shield to defend the false information.

Not to mention in such a repressive society, critical thinking would become more and more rare. Books that foster such lines of inquiry would be the first banned. Any books that teach critical thinking would be modified or outright banned. Those that remain would be kept upon the fringes. Books that reinforce methods of inquiry that circle back to predetermined conclusions would be pushed to the forefront. The society would be built upon methods of teaching that mimic critical thinking, while in reality the “critical thinking” is hand holding. All leading to the conclusions the society holds to be true.

One can know they are lied to, but not knowing the truth, or where to begin looking for it. Such conditions would cause cognitive dissonance in the critical mind. Their neighbors would shun them. Then the social need for acceptance would kick in at an early age and lull the critical mind into a state of such torpor that the mind might as well become catatonic. If you’re the only one who knows the world is a lie, how do you prove it? How do you survive? You’d not only fail to fit in with your compatriots, you might just stick out as a nail that needs to be hammered back in place. On top of that your daily dose of “education” reinforces the lies. It can become easy to believe them, or at least pretend to do so for survival.

For these reasons books shouldn’t be banned. Even books with faulty knowledge act as a whet stone for the critical mind. Explaining why they are faulty challenges the mind. In some forms of debate you must prove the other side wrong. To do so, you must not only know why your side is correct, but how the other side is wrong. You must also know the weak points in your argument, and the strong points in the opposing argument. Simply defending your own stance strengthens the grounding and knowledge you have on the subject. This has its dangers of course. You can defend your position so long, that when presented with an overwhelmingly powerful argument that you’re wrong, you have a hard time believing so. This is where seeing faulty and incorrect information on a regular basis comes in handy. If you see that others can be wrong, and it’s not the end of the world. You can accept that you will be wrong from time to time. If you’re never given the opportunity to see others corrected, you’ll never know how to accept correction yourself. So when presented with the possibility that you’re wrong, you’ll refuse the possibility outright. Thus you “double down on the crazy” as it were. You hold fast to your position out of desperation. You can’t accept or understand that you’re wrong. This is why bad information shouldn’t be banned. It should be available for individuals to see it’s possible and okay to be wrong.

If faulty books are banned, it starts down a road where only “acceptable” true information is available. While true, the narrative is controlled, which shapes the developing mind. A mind that develops in a controlled narrative is more malleable to the desired outcomes and thoughts. Even a critical mind, if subjected to this early enough, falls victim. If you’re never presented with the possibility that being incorrect is possible, you’ll never think you can be incorrect. You’ll then begin to believe what you’re told is correct, even when it isn’t.

There will alwayse be those who lack critical reasoning skills. They can be controlled with false information, or truths. Critical minds can be shaped with all truths, if the truths are controlled. It’s the presence of false information with truths that allows the critical mind to synthesize it’s own conclusions, and see when it is being driven to a desired conclusion.

The truth can be controlled. That’s how you can control a critical mind. Control what truths a critical mind sees, and it shapes the individual. The conclusions they begin to draw are foregone, based on the controlled information. From there they lose the ability to think critically, and half truths can be used, gradually reaching full lies that they think are real.

You can control those who lack critical reasoning with the truth or lies. They will believe what you tell them. If you want to control those with critical reasoning skills, give them the truth. Control that truth, and then deny them access to false information. In the absence of false information, they will lose the ability to see the controlled truth.

This is the end of the original post, but the gears are turning.

There are other arguments to be made for not banning books. Books are the creative space in which humanity frolics. We can explore the full spectrum of emotions and actions all without any casualties. A talented writer can transport a reader anywhere, give them any emotion, sensation, and experience. A reader can explore their sexuality from the safety of their bedroom. Think on things that they may or may not be ready to try, all without putting themselves in harm’s way. We can experience the elation of sky diving, the fear of running for our lives from some unknowable monster, or a real monsters among humanity. We can even explore the darker aspects of our psyche. We can see through the eyes of a killer, a terrorist, or even a rapist. We can experience those emotions, and not commit the crime. We can even explore the emotions of the victim, all without being harmed. Readers gain empathy and sympathy for those around them. Whether fiction, or a memoir, we can place ourselves in the mind, body and spirit of a victim of abuse, rape, war, starvation. It will never be the same, akin to comparing a candle to the sun. Candles can burn bright, and their light can help us understand others.

Don’t ban books that contain images and ideas you find abhorrent. Write your own books. If you find certain sexual practices unseemly, write a book that shows us your emotional and moral objections. We all know murder and rape are wrong, but these are abstract concepts. Write a book from the perspective of the victim; let us experience the suffering a victim goes though. Once experienced, we will carry a shadow of those emotions with us. Not only will we have sympathy for the victims, we will be more likely to advocate on their behalf, or take steps to stop future victims from living through those horrors.

If you feel sex and drugs destroys a person. Write a book that shows the life of an individual afflicted with that which you think dangerous. Take the reader on a journey, show them the pain and suffering. They may just think twice when it comes to their life.

If you think certain genre books are dangerous for children (fantasy, magic, etc…), write books they will find equally enjoyable, yet deal with subjects you don’t find dangerous. You won’t stop them from reading the other books, but you will give them your books as options.

Don’t advocate banning books you disagree with. Write books you do agree with. Write books from your perspective or with ideals you hold true. The worst that will happen is you’ll get a few bad reviews. If you ban books however, down that road you not only create a sub culture that chases after the taboo, you lead society down a path of decreased reasoning. A path that tells future generations that it’s okay to board up things that they don’t agree with. A path that tells future generations that they can control the way others think, by limiting what information they consume. A path that leads to those who don’t conform to the established group think being shunned, and worse attacked as aberrant, and dangerous.

The examples I gave of “negative” books were culled from the type of books and subjects I hear being complained about or banned most often.

~The_Detective

A Chorus of Carols.

A_CHRISTMAS_CAROL_927-65_RMODA 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.

ChristmasCarol2014@ZJU_SteamPunkChorusThe 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.

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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.

A Macabre Viewing

GraveDigger@ZJU_PostcardBestZombie Joe’s Underground Theatre gives an extended run to Halloween with GraveDigger, and it’s a welcome extension.

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.

GRAVEDIGGER@ZJU_PHOTO_1As 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.GRAVEDIGGER@ZJU_PHOTO_3

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.

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GraveDigger (by Bea Egeto) runs Friday and Saturday through November 22nd.

For more info please visit www.zombiejoes.com

All Photos Credit: Zombie Joe

A walk through nightmares.

Tour of terrorFor the second year Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre brings us the best haunted maze in the LA area.

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

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