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A Macabre Danse

February 1, 2015

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.

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