Death Quad (Shorts)
Various writers and directors
Entire contents are copyright © 2012, Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
|Death Quad. Photo courtesy of The Alley Theater.
|Maybe I’m old fashioned, but it never fails to amuse me how zombies have become such a ubiquitous presence in popular culture. Once upon a time, the image itself was enough to give people the heebie-jeebies. Yet today, it is as likely to provoke laughter as screams. The challenge in actually frightening the audience, or at least creeping them out a little bit, has become greater and greater – it not being enough to simply throw stumbling, bloody, flesh-eating creatures at them.
Unlike the two longer plays (Mama Didn’t Raise No Zombie and Zombie! A New Musical), Death Quad, the second of two programs of short pieces included in this “Festival of New American Undead Theater,” employs only a few proper zombies, and then to mostly comic effect, turning its attention to other undead forms for the best moments.
Two Zombies Having a Conversation, written by Jeff Smith and directed by Melissa Gaddie, opens the evening with a nicely observed comic scene of two zombies (Denny Grinar and Chris Petty) taking a break from their hunt for fresh humans to get better acquainted. The somewhat humiliating origin of one zombie is described in a vivid, sharply funny turn from Mr. Grinar.
Even better is the morbidly exotic situation comedy of Nina Mansfield’s Bite Me, which features Meg Caudill as a wife providing her spouse (Todd Zeigler) the opportunity of eternal domestic bliss –to be provided by the vampire (a sleek and stylish Andrew Villier) she has conveniently captured while shopping. As directed by Kathryn Furrow, the tidy narrative is given a delightful rendering, fueled by the irrepressibly wicked gleam in the eye of the delicious Ms. Caudill.
Ghost?, by Eoin Carney, is such a slight piece of material, it seems like a snatch of an idea in need of development, or inclusion in some larger dramatic construction, so that it hardly registers during its brief few minutes of duration.
Fortunately, the program ends on a strong note, with a theatrical satire entitled Storms, Sheets, and Show Tunes. The script by Stacey Lane is clever and focused in depicting an “audition” among ghosts, each vying for the recently vacated position of haunting a venerable old theater. Two notable performances fortify the production: Robert Hatfield is a riot as the flamboyantly arrogant director in charge of the audition, while Ben Wood is a forceful and spooky presence as his best candidate, a dead confederate soldier. The piece is staged with confidence by director Herschel Zahnd III and ends with an intriguing cameo moment played by Madeline Dee, who, although given very little to do, does it honestly .
It must be said that the whole enterprise seems all too brief, clocking in at a scant 45 minutes, begging the question of whether the two bills of short plays combined might not have made for a more impactful evening of theatre. I suppose there is a virtue in leaving the audience wanting more, and an argument to be made in favor of material that does not overstay its welcome. The slight nature of the program is alleviated by a handful of key performances that illuminate some brief, if imaginatively crafted, writing. And if we settle for that, perhaps it is enough.
Featuring: Meg Caudill, Madeline Dee, Denny Grinar, Robert Hatfield, Faith Hoover, Chris Petty, Sara Renauer, Audra Todd, Andrew Villier, Ben Wood & Todd Zeigler.
Part of Inhuman: A Festival of the New American Undead Theater