The excitement of attending a festival of new plays lies in the fact that audiences get to experience the staged work for the first time. This experience can be a blessing, a curse, or a combination of both. The Alley Theater’s “Inhuman: A Festival of the New American Undead Theater,” as “the first one of its kind in the nation” according to the theater’s president, gives audiences a bittersweet experience when attending at least one of the three festival bills titled “Four Pack of Death,” a series of short plays lasting a little less than an hour.
“Four Pack of Death” consists of The One Minute Zombie Fuck Play (because the one minute zombie shit play was too disgusting) by Martin French; Necromas by Ben Unwin and Matt Muerer; Keep Hope Alive, a staged reading (sort of) by Gregory T. Fugate; and Entranced by Ron Burch. And while Dana Hope directs two of the shorts, The One Minute Zombie Fuck Play and Keep Hope Alive, Ben Unwin directs his own play, Necromas, and Kenn Parks directs Entranced.
The One Minute Zombie Fuck Play was cleverly visual and except for a couple of lines, the play—longer than a minute but shorter than three—depended on the music, physical acting and the energy of its male lead. Necromas was funny because of its “Christmas Consumerism” concept and because two actors (a singing Christmas zombie and an unapologetic wife) had perfect timing. I wish I could say the same thing about Keep Hope Alive, a play that has a very “The Walking Dead” feel and Entranced, play that has a very “Saturday Night Live” feel.
In a theatre performance, the director becomes responsible for what is presented on stage. With a new play, the director is supposed to capture the playwright’s vision and transport it from the written page onto the stage. The actors then are supposed to understand such vision and with their talent add to it, thus creating a new artistic and theatrical piece. Yet, somehow, Dana Hopes as the director of Keep Hope Alive and Kenn Parks directing Entranced aren’t able to completely translate the playwrights’ visions. The first play becomes uninteresting while presented as a stage reading, and as it slowly turns into a full-staged play, it loses its focus; and by the end, the play is dead and it is not coming back to life. In the case of Entranced, the problem lies with its staging and transitions. The cast is good, delivering lines with sharp timing, thus making the audience laugh out loud. Unfortunately the actors are lost on stage (even though it is small) and the transitions from one scene to the next are slow and unclear. This creates unwanted moments of dead silence, interrupting the fluidity and rhythm of the play, which is regrettable because the play has a very good premise.
By the end of the evening, you leave the theatre thanking Dionysus that “Four Pack of Death” was less than an hour long. And by the time you get to the parking lot you realized you chuckled, you laughed, you got bored, and you had forgotten about the inhuman, mainly because you’ve seen two short good plays and two longer bad ones.
As an overall evening of New American Undead Theater, “Four Pack of Death” leaves you wishing for better production values, higher quality in the directing, and a more controlled theatrical experience. I only hope the other presentations are much better and tighter, thus keeping this festival alive and not worse than a zombie: DEAD!
Four Pack of Death: Shorts
Part of: Inhuman: A Festival of the New American Undead Theater
Running March 1-24, 2012, at The Alley Theater. Check here for the exact schedule:
Tim & Dair Mathistad
Katie & Chris Haulter
Kathy Todd Chaney
Angie Reed Garner