Los Angeles Theater Review: NIGHTMARES (Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group)

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by Tony Frankel on January 20, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles


One of the most exciting events to come out of Los Angeles theater in the last few years was Zombie Joe’s Urban Death, a naturalistic horror show in the style of Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol. I stated in my review that his creepy one-hour compilation of original, jocular, frightening, and truly disturbing vignettes was “a sensory-inducing shockfest of images and short scenes, some of which contain better storytelling in 15 seconds than most other Horror Shows known as Los Angeles Theater achieve in 90 minutes.”

NIGHTMARES at Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre.Now, the purveyor of weird is back with an all-new show that offers an equally brave cast in a series of quirky, phantasmagoric pieces: Nightmares. This time, the seats have been removed, and the audience either sits without back support on a few risers or stands for the 45-minute show around the perimeter of the miniscule black-box space. The eerie soundtrack has been replaced by a drummer who creatively bangs away in the corner. Instead of spine-chilling characters and morbid offerings, the huge near-omnipresent ensemble is now intent on having some kind of Dead Man’s Party. Indeed, a few sketches take place at a party; in one very crowded scene, a guy walks around naked saying “hi” to everyone, and another has a clown blowing up a balloon for the entranced guests.

NIGHTMARES at Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre.The cast is dressed in outfits that must have been tossed away by a thrift store, and their make-up looks like Cirque du Raccoon. With the exception of a few forays into Urban Death-like montage, the game actors clump, writhe, hiss, moan, and scream as if they were assigned to replicate unrestrained warm-up exercises in an acting class.

Just before the purveyors of this oddity closed the theater doors, they said, “It doesn’t matter where you stand or sit. In fact, feel free to move around or join in.” Well, with a thicket of thespians flailing about, and lights going up and down, that hardly seemed practical. I assume the intention here was an interactive Danse Macabre festivity, but while the hosts seemed to be having a blast, there was no dancing, no macabre, and no festivity for the guests. Surely, our experience couldn’t have been the kind of nightmare that the creators had in mind.

NIGHTMARES at Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre.photos by Zombie Joe

Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group
ZJU Theatre
4850 Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood
scheduled to end on February 1, 2014
for tickets ($15), call (818) 202- 4120
or visit www.zombiejoes.tix.com

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