The Beast is Back

urban-deathLike a deck of demented cards, Zombie Joe reveals his latest creation at The Players Theatre, masterfully tainting old MacDougal Street with all sorts of blood, guts, and gore. Whatever your secret nightmares may be, Zombie Joe's Underground has something to unleash for your vicious fantasies.

Presented as a night of horrific scenes and personified fears, Urban Death was the perfect way to usher in the ghosts and demons of All Hallow's Eve and remains relevant for the horror that the upcoming holiday season can bring.

Darkness prevails, punctuated by visual tales of terror that appear and vanish, leaving the audience to wait in anticipated horror for what will next emerge from the shadows. The experience is both disturbing and humorous as images ranging from carnivorous zombies to grinning clowns to a man dismembering his own genitalia take the stage. Zombie not only knows how to command the action under the light but in the blackouts as well. Sounds of heavy breathing and tormented moans fill the unlit spaces, setting the scene while creating a persisting tension that is sustained from beginning to end.

Zombie's approach to exploring the things that creep in the darkest recesses of the human mind is simple and sexually charged. The visual affect of an undead bride holding out a withered bouquet, wearing a tattered wedding gown, needs only to pleadingly groan the words "Love mea" to tell a fuller story as she slowly moves towards the audience with unsettling mechanical steps. Zombie is also very comfortable with breaking the fourth wall, as he does with one of the evenings most captivating visuals of a human-like beast that scales the walls and crawls across the ceiling.

The cast is committed as a whole and dives headlong into whatever twisted vision Zombie has to lead them on. Contorting their bodies and faces on command, dripping blood on cue, and embracing and embodying all that Death has to offer, this cast will rock you. As in previous productions with this troupe, they are very talented at walking the fine line between horror and humor, switching the mood on a dime with deliberate control.

Harkening back to visual touches of Fosse, half of the choreography and costuming is amoeba-like and shamelessly sexual. The actors make many appearances in a state of undress, moving their bodies in a throbbing rhythm as they demonstrate both the sex appeal and awkward oddity of the human body. This essence reaches its peak in a movement piece with the ladies of the cast reclining on one another in a standing cluster, striking and holding a progression of suggestively funny poses in time with the music.

The score, much of which is original, is also worthy of note and left this writer wishing that they offered a soundtrack. Off kilter circus-sounding themes mixed with more haunting numbers make for a perfect audio backdrop for the mood of the piece and help advance the themes of this production, which reminds us how much can be accomplished in a small black-box theatre space if the gods of imagination and creation are truly being honored. - C. Jefferson Thom

Urban Death plays through November 22: Thurs., Fri. & Sat. at 11pm at The Players Theatre, 115 MacDougal St., NYC cj_thom

Mr. Thom lives in New York City and walks dogs, writes plays, and loves dissecting pop culture.