Los Angeles Theater Review: DOSTOEVSKY’S NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND (Zombie Joe’s Underground)

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by Jesse David Corti on January 21, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles

DOSTOEVSKY’S NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND

Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground at Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre in North Hollywood ought not to surface. This willfully banal production of the Jesse David Corti's Stage and Cinema review of DOSTOEVSKY'S NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND at ZJU Los AngelesRussian classic refrains from connecting with the audience and instead, serves only their self-absorbed conceits. More concerned with making a joke about Lankershim Boulevardland than it is with both relating this parable about man’s perversity and creating characters with honesty and empathy, it defies all of the philosophical importance and meaningfulness of Dostoevsky’s existential cry of “What now!?!” Less story-oriented and more psychological in nature, Dostoevsky’s novella is focused against the idea of utopian socialism; it is a heated accusation against man’s essential goodness. With this fifty minute stage version, however (give or take some minutes depending on how quickly the actors speed through the text), the audience is dealt affectation for affectation’s sake, irreverence without relevance, and above all, Josh T. Ryan’s visionless direction, which, since it doesn’t seem to know where it’s going, takes incongruous stabs at how to get there.

Jesse David Corti's Stage and Cinema review of DOSTOEVSKY'S NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND at ZJU Los AngelesZombie Joe’s adaptation of Dostoevsky’s piece starts with TJ Alvarado singing “Atmosphere” by Joy Division – along with the track. However, this karaoke moment is dragged out for the entire song. Adding the other musical sequences in this piece, the actual text must consist of only thirty pages. While the song plays and Alvarado sings, Alex (Michael Blomgren) sits with a blank glare, body rigid upon a chair. After the song fades out, we hear the first of many monologues by Alex – each one delves deeper into tedium and further away from resonance.

Jesse David Corti's Stage and Cinema review of DOSTOEVSKY'S NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND at ZJU Los AngelesOne may argue that the point of the production is to highlight the madness of Alex, and Michael Blomgren does a fine job of memorizing the text – no small feat considering he has several lengthy monologues. However, his one-note performance doesn’t connect with his existentialist, answer-seeking, paradoxically driven character. Because his interpretation consists solely of delivering lines awkwardly and staring intensely, the through-line of Alex becomes compromised and shattered, leaving Dostoevsky to roll in his grave and people like me to roll our eyes at yet another affected line reading. Not even his well-toned upper body can save his performance.

Later, we meet Zverkov, Simone, and Ferfi, three boisterous Russian persons who cross Alex’s path. Leif La Duke’s Zverkov plays between Rodney Dangerfield and Boris Yeltsin, Julie Bremel’s Simone a garish caricature of a Russian seductress, and Jesse David Corti's Stage and Cinema review of DOSTOEVSKY'S NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND at ZJU Los AngelesChelsea Rose’s Ferfi goes Valley Girl. The biting commentary on society is lost with North Hollywood references, and the mix of Russians and Valley Girl is both bizarre and purposeless. A brief glimmer of hope appears when Liza (Jenna Jacobson) enters Alex’s life. Though Jacobson gives the least offensive performance and executes an adequate burlesque, Alex’s listless contrived shouting takes over, and the audience is subjugated to more memorized yet unfocused ramblings. If art is the illumination of the truth in an exceptional manner, then this is its opposite: a showcase of artifice.

Jesse David Corti's Stage and Cinema review of DOSTOEVSKY'S NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND at ZJU Los Angelesphotos by Josh T. Ryan

Dostoevsky’s Notes From Underground
Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group in North Hollywood
scheduled to end on March 1, 2013
for tickets, call 818 202-4120 or visit http://www.ZombieJoes.com

Click here for Stage and Cinema’s review of the 2010 Off-Broadway Production

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