Every time I invite a new victim, er, friend to join me at Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre it plays out like a grand litmus test of trust and friendship . This time I brought two newbies with me. “What is it again?” they asked repeatedly. “Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre.” I would explain, “They are putting on one of their signature shows called BLOOD ALLEY.” This explanation never satisfied my friends. So I described the show further, explaining that it is performed in a blackbox theatre in North Hollywood at least once, sometimes twice a year, and that it is a collection of vignettes that take place in a cursed alley. I was still met with quizzical exasperation. Giving up on attempting to get any detailed description of what it was my two friends simply resigned and put their trust in my judgement.
Fine. They passed the trust test. But after they saw the show would they speak to me afterward?
Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre is back with an all-new BLOOD ALLEY for 2019. It is an aggressive piece of performance art theatre that plumbs the depths of the unimaginable, the unspeakable, unwatchable, and occasionally the uproarious incidents of debauchery in a forgotten part of the city. Co-directors Elif Savas and Zombie Joe have returned for another installment and they have created, with the help of their cast, a show that is some of their best work to date.
After paying the criminally low price of $15 a ticket, we patiently waited in the lobby of ZJU until the theatre was opened. Soon enough the cellar door before us slid left and we were invited into the alley. At this point audience members can choose to sit either on the raked seating to the right or for a more intimate experience in the single row of chairs in the performance space that face the majority of the audience. This is, of course the best seat in the house so get there early and nab these spots.
Nervously anticipating what was to come, my two newbie friends fussed, nervously looking at their programs until two performers, Warren Hall and Jonica Patella, appeared and began performing a silent skit as the house filled and settled. It was time for the show to begin. Cell phones were turned off, apple watches silenced, and glow in the dark shirts were covered up. A policeman (Kevin Van Cott) working the beat wanders out from backstage and greets the other two residents of the Alley then crossed to take his spot behind a covered drum set and he begins to play the live accompaniment to the show. The lights fade, and we are back home in the darkness waiting with cringe-inducing anticipation of what will be before us when the lights rise.
As explained, the concept behind BLOOD ALLEY is that we are voyeurs, watching the echos of cursed souls in a brick walled passage. The scenes play episodically and jump back and forth between time, and even tone, capturing the history of this nasty little piece of real estate. Suicide, sexual exploits, drug use, comic encounters between two dog walkers, they are all explored and mined for their pathos, their horror, and their humor. The cast, who also had a hand in the creation of each scene, dives in and gives it everything they have, to deliver what what could be considered one of the more consistently entertaining BLOOD ALLEY shows.
Speaking of the cast here, there really isn’t a bad note for any of the cast. They come out, guns blazing, and never let up. Of course there are the usual standouts with co-director Savas and Patella battling for smallest, most fierce female on the ZJU stage. I would love to see a show of just them, but I digress. Deaf actor Yael Herman delivers what could be considered a breakthrough as she finally asserts her talent and becomes a substantial presence in the ensemble. The real transformation, however, comes from Van Cott who is not only responsible for playing the book end story of the Police Officer, but for delivering his best musical work to date. Van Cott keeps the musical momentum, driving the show along with merciless guitar, drums, and keyboard.
Truly, there were things that I cannot unsee after sitting through BLOOD ALLEY 2019. The really weird thing is that I kinda want to see it again. I’ve never been closer to gagging at a ZJU show, but I couldn’t look away. That is pretty much the appeal of BLOOD ALLEY. It is dark, it is nasty, gritty, and at times painfully uncomfortable.
Oh god but what did my friends think? Would they still even talk to me after taking them to this show? The final scene closed, the lights came up, and Van Cott’s officer told us to scram. We got back out to the lobby and one friend said, “OMG That was the coolest f*cking thing I have seen in a long time!” The other friend exclaimed, “I thought I was a fearless actor. Huh, I got nothin on these people here. That was magnificent.” So, I guess I still have friends.
If you would like to test the waters with your loved ones, grab a ticket to BLOOD ALLEY at Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre in North Hollywood. It will be one evening you won’t forget.