Something Unexpected: “Bedlam,” “Monster” at ZJU

You never know what to expect at Zombie Joe’s.

With as many as four shows onstage during the same weekend, it’s no wonder.  Two of the current offerings push the envelope of our expectations in different — but interesting — directions.

Matt Hislope, Elif Savas, Ian Heath (photo: Sebastian Munoz)

Matt Hislope, Elif Savas, Ian Heath (photo: Sebastian Munoz)

Bedlam Explosivo Variety Hour
The “early” Saturday offering ( 8:30 pm) is a new show, directed by the indefatigable Sebastian Muñoz.  It may or may not be the first “variety hour” to grace the black box — but it’s an unprecedented experience.

The cast, nearly all familiar faces to ZJU regulars, step out of the trademark blackness to perform an array of brief numbers of all kinds.  But instead of eerie shocks, they unpack a series of  surprising talents.

The pre-show is a solo cello suite by Jennifer Novak Chun; then she’s joined by Allison Fogarty on flute. They’re joined in turn by Michael Guthrie and a guitar, then by the whole cast singing — while Elif Savas  weaves a stunning operatic descant.  Later, Scott Michael dons a tux to perform sleight-of-hand magic; and Ian Heath crawls and springs like an acrobatic spider. Five actors execute a dance routine, and Vivi Varon uses “Il bel sogno di Doretta” (sung impeccably by Salas) to back a striptease so effective that when the lights fall, a sincere “Damn” erupts from the seats.

Yes, Virginia, there is near-nudity, there are blackouts. Also shocks and frights.  And more than once, you’ll squirm in your seat.  All the  expected coups de theatre in this venue.  But would you think LA’s premier guignol generator could turn out a fun, fast-moving — and weird — variety hour?  Well, they can.  And they do.
Bedlam Explosivo Variety Hour, created by the company, directed by Sebastian Muñoz.
Presented by Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group at the ZJU Theatre, 4850 N. Lankershim Blvd.

Saturdays at 8:30 pm, through March 28th.

Tickets: <> or (818) 202-4120.


Richie Werner (center) and the cast of Monster Show #1

Richie Werner (center) and the cast of Monster Play #1

Karaokeapocalypse: The Monster Plays #1-4
The “late” Friday (11 pm)  piece — subtitled “a psychedelic punk rock puppet horror opera” — sounds more like the usual ZJU fare.  But when the lights go up, it looks more like a variety show, with chairs along the back wall.

Yet it’s neither.

It’s more of a “Horror Geeks’ Amateur Hour.” Led by impresario Richie Werner, the crew pours out a non-stop series of songs, stomps and gags, gleefully summoning long-dead monster films and novelty songs.  Each of the four nights — Plays #1-4 — features a somewhat different cast and menu.

At Play #1, we’re treated to puppets of a sort, a rubber werewolf, flashlights, turntables, a brief cameo by a Brian “Skull” O’Connor robot, and the Monster of Reseda — a bizarre green people-eater (the purple one’s younger brother?).

This is the sort of show you and your friends dreamed of putting on,  when you stayed up late watching the Saturday night frights on TV.  It’s ragged and raw, without ZJU’s hallmark polish and intensity; but its full of energy — and love for horror of all kinds.  Of any kind.

Maybe not for everyone.  But a fun ride for anyone who grew up knowing the words to “Monster Mash.”
Karaokeapocalypse: The Monster Plays #1-4, created by Richie Werner and company.
Presented by Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group at the ZJU Theatre, 4850 N. Lankershim Blvd.

Fridays at 11:00 pm, through April 10th.

Tickets: <> or (818) 202-4120.