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Long live the message!

March 6, 2013

UD-postcardThis is the second time I have had the pleasure and joyfully taxing task of reviewing Urban Death as preformed by Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group. Much like the first time I reviewed this performance; there is so much depth. I am lost in a sea of words that describe this masterpiece. Much like that old adage water water everywhere, and not a drop of it to drink. Words words everywhere, and none do justice.

Urban Death as a play is reminiscent of a critical idea from 1950s literature. The authors dead, long live the message. That is to say the author plays second fiddle to the message and conclusion the reader comes to independently of the story. The play is dead, long live the message. Urban Death pulls off the hardest thing performance art can do; making the audiences’ individual take away more important than the show as a whole. This isn’t to say the Play not important; without a well scripted and performed show this effect would be impossible.

URBAN_DEATH_2013@ZJU_JacobsLadder So what is Urban Death? Urban Death is a collection of over thirty vignettes that illustrate all aspects of death; be they physical or metaphysical. The vignettes range from 30 seconds to several minutes long. In between each vignette the theater is plunged into the darkest black possible. In between the scenes you find yourself holding your breath not knowing what will come next. If you’re a fan of horror, or just love to see your date jump out of their skin this is the show for you. Urban Death is more than just a horror it is a cerebral play that will leave you contemplating life and death for days to come.

The tools used throughout the performance are entirely constructed in the minds of the audience. In most Plays there is an underlying artistic movement. Surrealism, existentialism, realism these and others are all terms we use to describe a collection of complex ideas. Each movement has clearly defined ideas and imagery. Urban Death has taken all of these movements and melted them down to their constituent components. These components are then poured into the crucible that is the stage. From there the audience may reach into the burning mass to pick out the components they more readily self identify with. Take a gory scene for example; a Realist could see that as representing a pure physical death. A Surrealist would see the same gory scene and witness the terrible beauty associated with pure unadulterated violence. Every member of the audience is left with the difficult and self affirming task of identifying what each vignette means to them.

At its heart Urban Death illustrates the varied types of death we can undergo in the urban environment. If you thought physical death was the death you might one day experience Urban Death will show you there is so much more to life and death. As a Surrealist/Utilitarian it would be unreasonable for me to insist my take away from the individual vignettes would be the same as yours. Since Urban Death melted down the components of so many movements I can point out the parts of the whole; leaving the final message yours to interpret.

URBAN_DEATH_2013@ZJU_SeveredHeadSeeing a crazed woman holding a severed head, grinning through a blood speared face. A Surrealist might find terrible beauty in the horror. An Existentialist might view head as theirs, and at the same time they would be holding the head of their greatest tormenter. A Romanticist might see dancing with the corpse of your lover as love transcending death, a Naturalist might see this as the perversion of the mind a form of psychoses. Every vignette can be viewed through the lens of the preferred movement of the viewer. In this way each vignette is a personal experience shared by everyone simultaneously.

Let’s not forget Urban Death is a horror. From the moment the lights go out, your breath catches in your throat. Your eyes widen trying to pull in light that doesn’t exist; your ears strain to hear the faintest pin drop. Darkness is another tool Urban Death uses. By forcing you to engage all of your senses to keep up with the play you can more readily taken and interpret your own message.

Urban Death will have you on the edge of your seat until the lights go up. Whether you are on the edge of your seat through fear, or laughter depends on the lenses through which you view life.

URBAN_DEATH_2013@ZJU_Witches2If I could wish for one more thing from Urban Death it would be more of the non-gory scenes. The gory scenes serve the purpose of illustrating physical death. To me the non-gory scenes illustrate far more terrifying ideas. Having to go on living after you’re faith has died is an infinitely more painful fate then dying. The death of metaphysical and ephemeral qualities that make us human are far more poignant to witness. To watch these deaths evokes a crippling, traumatic terror that dripping blood cannot. To me Urban Death‘s strength lies in the emotional imagery, not the physical.

I would like to thank all involved with urban death. Each and every one of them made this possible. Zombie Joe directing, with musical score by Christopher Reiner. Featuring Adalys Alvarez, Vanessa Cate, Denise Devin, Mark Hein, Cimcie Nichols, Emmanuel Paraskiv, Willy Romano-Pugh, Chelsea Rose, Kevin Van Cott, Roger K. Weiss & Corey Zicari.

Urban Death is alive, long live the message!


Urban death runs Saturdays at 11 PM through April 27.

For more information please visit:

All Photo Credit: Zombie Joe

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