Edgar Allan Poe's Masque of the Red Death & The Tell-Tale Heart & The Bells -- A strange wind has blown us a dark delicacy from Los Angeles in the form of Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre Group. Breaking more than the fourth wall, this staged adaptation of Poe, currently playing at The St. Luke's Theatre, is a welcomed change from the norm.
If you're looking for a night of traditional theater, this is not the show for you. However, if you'd to take a gamble on something you haven't seen before, then look no further. The audience is attacked from all angles, including the lobby, as blood and sexuality ooze from the stage, providing a taste of the dark side for lovers of the macabre. Aside from the terms "presentational" and "experimental," there are not currently words in the vernacular to describe Zombie Joe's Underground. The performers stand with a rigid, almost uncomfortable tension as they stare out into the audience with bulging eyes projecting dialog at high decibels. The choreography bears a quirky resemblance to the work of Bob Fosse, with a lot of high-speed shuffling added in for good measure.
Finding the humor in Poe isn't always easy, but this production succeeds in doing so in several places, managing to be entertaining while at the same time aiming the dark author's twisted mirror at the audience to show us the signs of contemporary decay collected like pock-marks on our world.
This message is particularly resonant in "Masque of the Red Death," where we are presented with the story of an isolated upper class enjoying a lifestyle of privilege and decadence as the world outside is ravished with disease and suffering. Though the walls of the pleasure palace are thick, ultimately they are not thick enough, and it turns out even money and power can't save you in the end -- hint, hint America. It is instantly clear who is indigenous to the Zombie style and who is fresh meat. Most noteworthy of the veterans is Maria Olsen, who should be instantly contacted if Friedkin ever decides to continue the Exorcist franchise. The rattle in her voice is hypnotizing and perfectly suited for this piece.
Overall, the production is dripping with strange and intriguing performances. Death, terror, and fear have never looked so good nor felt so fun. If you don't catch this current Zombie Joe production, then you are missing out on the birth of something new and exciting in New York. However, don't worry, I have a sick sense that this uncanny beast has many heads and will soon surface again, ready for the kill.
Performances at the St. Luke's Theatre are: Weds., Thurs. & Sat. at 8pm, Sun. at 7pm running through Sept. 28th.