OUR OWN PRIVATE GRAND GUIGNOL
I hesitate to call anyone a genius on the basis of two productions, but if Sotto Voce alerted me to the unique talents of Zombie Joe, then Urban Death, the beautifully strange and ever evolving Saturday late night show at Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group, confirmed and validated my impression that there is a genius living inside the director’s crazily radical head.
What Zombie Joe has done is to take the classic Grand Guignol form and put a personal spin on it that defies easy description; out of an assortment of familiar images – culled from horror movies, sexploitation films, comic books, religio-sexual fetishisms, and, above all, from our own collective fears about the sounds we hear in the dark, about the phantasies we carry out around with us in the dark recesses of our brains and have been waiting to see released – Zombie Joe has created images of such stark power and shockingly lewd seductiveness that one leaves the theater reeling, but only after we have spent an hour in the always imaginatively used tiny space of his theater laughing out loud and getting scared out of our wits, and, best of all, discovering the poetry that such imagery can evoke if and when true artists are at work.
Through an extraordinary alchemy of performer, costume designer, eerie lighting effects, stunning use of music and sound, and the intricate choreography of human bodies, Urban Death invents a phantasmagoric dream world, which, as far as this reviewer is concerned, could have gone on and on. It is rare indeed to come upon so much theatrical invention in so short a time. But Zombie Joe’s imagination seems to go well beyond what we might call boundaries.
It would be unfair to give away anything; coming upon it unawares is part of what makes it seem so brilliant. But some images have burned into memory: a nun in prayer giving way to her lustful feelings; a thunder-and-lightning storm that illuminates a room before plunging it into darkness as the rains go on; the darkness again and the footsteps of some odd little creature that comes dangerously close to our feet; the sight of a pile of corpses re-entering life as zombies.
ReThe evening has been so artfully calibrated that it is shame that the audience feels a need to applaud each image instead of letting each one sink in before moving on to the next image. But let us not argue with a grateful crowd. It knows a good thing when it sees it. And Urban Death is wonderful. Its creator, Zombie Joe, is a genius.
There. I said it.
harveyperr @ stageandcinema.com
photos by Zombie Joe
runs Saturday nights at 11:00 p.m.
for tickets, visit http://urbandeath.com
EXTENDED THROUGH JULY 21, 2012!