It would come as no surprise that we are fans of horror. So when Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre opens a new immersive piece of work that promises to dive into a nightmarish realm we are on it like hump on granny. Explained in painfully vague terms, their new show Tortured Souls, dives “into the darkest nightmares of lost souls drowning within their blackened catacombs of terror and bewilderment, traversing through barren landscapes of endless pain, torture and metamorphosis!” So pretty much like every other ZJU show right? Wrong. Learning from the missteps in shows like Brave The Dark and Blood Alley Christmas, Tortured Souls retains a tentative through line in exploring the agony and loss of mortality. They achieve something that is worthy of the Zombie Joe’s name.
The show begins as we line up single file outside the theatre. With our right hand on the shoulder of the person in front of us and eyes closed, we are led into the pitch black play space. When instructed we open our eyes and still see nothing. Then the show slowly begins. At first a noise, then a small candle. Gradually the room is dotted with writhing figures, asking, wanting to connect, to share their pain.
The show plays out as a performance piece in the darkened halls of ZJU. The actors guide theatergoers from scene to scene with kid gloves and a delicate manipulation of attention. Along the way we cross paths with souls desperate to share their stories, and in doing so, permitted to find peace. What struck me in particular was the flawless ability the troupe exhibited in creating scenes of communal profundity mixed with intimate individual moments. The show is spectacle and monologue all at once in a hybrid of theatre unlike anything I have seen before.
Of course we must call out the stand out performers, Elif Savas being the most fearsome of the bunch. Her tiny frame and laser-like glare coupled with her vocal talents make her a bacon for your attention. There is also a strangely tragic moment with Daniel Palma that is at once hilarious and heartbreaking, like walking in on a memory this person would rather forget. In one of the scenes each audience member was separated and given one on one time. I personally had a moment with Christopher Harmony that was a remarkable bit of work. Of course we have to give props to Ian Heath, Jason Brit, and Matthew Taylor Vorce as well for their contributions to the work.
Kevin Van Cott is here again as well, doing what he does best in being the one that brings a gnarly live score to the performance with his guitar and drums. His work is, once again, stellar here, but something tells me he can do a lot more. I’d like to see Van Cott develop a more melodic accompaniment that is less brash and more haunting.
If you see the show more than once, and you should, you will have different interactions, and in effect, a far different story you come across. Go see this as it is finally something that creates something almost entirely new.