The world is a frightening place, and there are terrors lurking everywhere. The secret is knowing how to find them! While Orange County has the occasional Halloween Club Spookshow or Bats Day in the Fun Park [which coincidentally just went down this weekend], some of the more significantly unnerving paths of darkness are not so easily seen. In order to experience the best cutting-edge, grotesque, and profound chamber of horrors, one must abandon Orange County, venture up to North Hollywood, and enter Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre. It is in this intimate setting that one can currently experience a show called Urban Death.
Created and Directed by Zombie Joe and Jana Wimer, Urban Death is a series of unrelated vignettes, depicting various twisted moments, performed over the course of about an hour. Each scene lasts anywhere from several seconds to a couple of minutes. The performers utter screams, cries, and laughter, but there is no dialogue. Additionally, the performers wear ghostly mime makeup, and during the scenes wherein they wear clothes, the costuming is rustic and / or tattered in some way [costuming by Wimer, Adam Shows, Zombie Joe, and the rest of the ensemble]. A nuanced musical score by Christopher Reiner and a minimalist lighting design by Zombie Joe and Wimer provide a perfect complement for the performances.
As devotees of Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group are aware, it is verboten to discuss the particulars of Urban Death with those who have not yet experienced it. Though the vignettes routinely change over time, audiences can expect to see plenty of blood, violence, nudity, sexuality, perversion, dementia, puppetry, and illusions within most any incarnation of the show. Urban Death is the signature horror production of ZJU and runs several times a year (in the theatre as well as at special events, such as Midsummer Scream), and has achieved acclaim while touring as far as Cape Town, South Africa.
While some horror fans are easily satisfied, the brilliance of this show is not that it has blood, violence, nudity, and a persistent atmosphere of creepiness. The real gold lies both within the ensemble’s total commitment to Zombie Joe’s production and to the writing of the dreamlike sketches. Again, it is hard to explain without using specifics, and there is really nothing to which the show can be compared; however, the sketches are more works of poetry than they are traditionally structured scenes.
Each vignette depicts an isolated moment — not unlike a puppet that is designed to make a singular gesture; some of them convey a single unsettling image, and some of them are meditations on familiar social behaviors. The one constant is that they are all grotesque reflections of humanity, and the audience members who can transcend the taboo imagery and go along for the ride will find that Urban Death is not only brilliant theater, but it is also a powerful spiritual experience.
Urban Death is performed on Fridays and Saturdays at 11:00 pm, and the show is currently scheduled to run until May 28. To buy tickets and for information on other shows at Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre, visit their site.