Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre has recently been on a tear. Their last couple of productions have made every attempt to strike out against expectation. In their most recent show, DARK DARK RIDE RIDE, they created an actual two-person ride vehicle and show around that. In their new show, Cemetery of Tortured Souls, we are invited to a theatre in the dead of night to see the ghosts of show business past rise to life again in search of closure to their tragic demise in the limelight.
Invited to see an early preview of the show, our small group was asked to line up single file outside the theatre on Lankershim. We were then told to close our eyes and our group was led into the theatre building. We counted down from 10 to 0 and were then allowed to open our eyes. Still, pitch black, the room slowly came to life around us with sounds of breathing, gasping, and writhing on the ground. A single ghost high above us “lit” a singular candle and our focus was on her. Before we knew it we were surrounded by a room full of ghastly, albeit dapperly dressed ghouls telling us, “I’m Dying.”
Soon enough, we were led deeper into the cemetery and the real show begins. A cast of mostly new actors to the Zombie Joe’s Ensemble surround us and convince us to let go and dive into a make-believe world of 1930’s showbiz desperation and pathos. We meet all of the tropes, the lanky starlet, the blonde bombshell, the closeted thug, the sheister agent/manager, everyone that you think has had a tragic end in Tinseltown is alive and skulking around you, looking to share their endless pain.
Normally one to shy away from period pieces, Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre steps out of their comfort zone again in an attempt to create a new experience for increasingly savvy and demanding immersive theatre audiences. You can see the same ZJU ingredients, but they are laced with a new tone and in this case a surprisingly solid cast.
Yes, we could sing the praises of co-director Elif Savas until the cows come home but we expect that from her now. We also know that The standouts here are the new additions to the ZJU family. Rachel Dahlenburg, David Dickens, Andrew Guerrero, Jensi, Tommy Lee Kirby, Victor P. Marquez, Katie Lynn McDowell, and Libby Rose came after us in a savage fashion that was both exhilarating and mildly frightening. Not to mention a little bit alluring. Then, of course, there is the impeccable live accompaniment by Kevin Van Cott whose percussion thunders in the small performance space and evokes the big band sound from the heyday of Hollywood.
While the team at Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre were still tinkering with the details of this new experience we are sure that, with a few more tweaks, it will be another hit in a string of fearless stabs into new territory.