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A metaphysical ride-a-long

October 12, 2013

Recently I had the supreme pleasure of attending the final performance of Kamikaze! at Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre. Vanessa Cate takes you on a one woman journey, one that resembles a roller coaster more than a leisurely country drive.

The lights come on to reveal Vanessa at the edge of the stage. Facing away from the audience. At first she appears she is still, in time becomes clear that she is moving with deliberate stillness. As if she is a statue straining against her own nature, willing movement through the lifeless stone. Once she is facing the audience she begins to speak/sing. It has the feeling of a dream quest. An angel or spirit guide has appeared, and is trying to deliver an important lesson. Unfortunately the lights and audio cut out and the vision is lost. The lesson she intended to part, left unknown.

Kamikaze paints multiple illusions, some are for the eyes and others the ears. These Illusions are better served as the actress changes form and appearance. This presents a problem as it is a one woman show, and in a one woman show the actress must hold the stage, even when off stage. Zombie Joe’s direction choice to accomplish this was simple, yet powerful. The lights would be doused, Vanessa would then transition from scene to scene with dialogue. Sometimes song, sometimes poetry. It has the effect of being a soliloquy, as if we are given license to hear her most private thoughts as she moves from scene to scene.

The performance is presented in 13 vignettes, the themes of which carry over from one to another. The first five of which appear to build towards an ultimate end. They take the form of a 60’s acid trip, as seen through the lens of an 80’s movie. Ever building until the poor soul loses everything. After the visage of an angel passes Vanessa sings a song written by Shakespeare, a number sung by Ophelia in Hamlet. This is done off stage while she undergoes a costume change. The effect is a distant intangible voice, which adds layers to the trip you are taking. The lights come on to Vanessa looking quite peppy, as if she is on some very effective uppers. She is shopping, in a happy haze, to perky musazk. As the scene ends the lights dim, then illuminate a driving scene. She appears angry, as if determined to get somewhere, traffic be dammed. It’s now the metaphysical/ hallucinogenic takes a sinister turn. In “So Fine/Fish/HellVanessa bounces between life being great, thinking she is a fish, and suffering in hell! Being a veteran of shows at Zombie Joe’s Underground I should have expected the unexpected, I didn’t. When the lights dimmed I was unprepared for the blood curtailing scream that issued forth before red lights showed Vanessa writhing in pain. This vignette cycles between the three emotional trips like a drug addict on a downward spiral. Each stage progressing to the other faster and faster.

From here the shows vignettes are stand alone pieces. Their themes are similar though, something beautiful, or peaceful is destroyed. In one vignette Vanessa promises an unknown lover her utter devotion, only to slit her throat in the end. “Tracy” had to be one of my favorite stories. At first I was shocked and jumped, only because Vanessa appeared on stage in such an odd schoolmarm conservative outfit. It was so out of sorts, just seeing her appear in such a way shocked me. “Tracy” is the story of a nameless woman who considers Tracy her best friend. They met in youth group, and grow up together. Eventually Tracy moves away, and the nameless girl is heartbroken. Eventually going insane, spending day after day at LAX, without ever leaving, waiting for Tracy. In 5-8 minutes Vanessa showed a character that was a little odd at first, and then broke my heart when she drove her insane. I knew nothing about the nameless character at first, but by the end I ached at seeing her sanity lost. To pull that off in a vignette, is a combination of powerful writing, acting and direction.

Continuing the theme of loss and death the show touches on what it means to desire something, as well as the nature of lust in “Suspicious/Watersport“. To quote the show, “blood, sweat, tears love and sex are a watersport”. Love can make you ache to your core, and beg for more. In “Riddle of Steel“, Vanessa bays and howls at the primal gods, as she tells the story of how man acquired steel. It was a powerful combination of poetry and performance art. Her words painting a picture upon the movements of her body. Wrapping the night up was “Afrika“. Vanessa appears on stage in a Martial Arts Gi, then pastes herself to the wall keeping still. Only her jaw line move as she repeats the “ka” sound in Afrika. It’s hypotonic, comforting, and scary at the same time. Then she begins to perform a Kata, turning it into an interpretive dance. A Kata being a story itself. It is a Martial Arts demonstration in which a student retells the story of how one warrior defeated a multitude of opponents. While a martial discipline, it is also an art unto itself. Combining an art form within performance was the capstone layer to a performance that added layer upon layer with each scene.

Zombie Joe’s is alwasye the place to go for avant garde, performance art. Kamikaze! is no exception to this. My only regret is that Kamikaze! could not have a longer run.

Kamikaze! (written and performed by Vanessa Cate, Directed by Zombie Joe) appeared at Zombie Joe’s Underground.

For more information about Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group please visit:

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