A Little Chamber Music: Trio, Solos at Zombie Joe’s

What’s happening at Zombie Joe’s?

In LA theatre, that’s always a smart question.  The little black box on Lankershim mounts more shows per year than almost any other house in town.  And ZJU is known for cooking without a recipe — mixing terror, titillation and humor, twisting classics, and gleefully breaking boundaries.

Most Underground offerings feature a dozen or so actors working as one, at peak intensity.  Currently, two shows break that house tradition to enter a smaller, quieter realm.  One focuses on just three actors working in the signature Zombie Joe style, and the other brings one actor at a time onstage.  Sort of like chamber music.

Gloria Galvan, Brett Gustafson, Jessica Weiner

Gloria Galvan, Brett Gustafson, Jessica Weiner

Nightmares Trio
The piece begins with three figures (Gloria Galvan, Brett Gustafson and Jessica Weiner) writhing over one another in a sensual trance, to the ominous thrums of a keyboardist (Christopher Reiner). He’s in a three-piece suit, they’re barely clad and wear lurid makeup.

As the jam session heats up, scraps of dialog erupt, then fragments of scenes … but we keep returning to the primordial tangle.  One breaks free for a solo moment, while the other two sustain a quiet accompaniment.  Then another does the same.

Eventually, we’re seeing sustained scenelets, some clearly mapped out, some suggested; they trigger one another like a series of improvisations.  Someone pops from a window; the keyboardist belts a noir ballad; someone ruptures the fourth wall; someone invades the musician’s space. Once, the fantasy of a planned performance breaks down altogether.

In a nonstop hour, these three (and their accompanist) wring so many changes from their bodies, faces and voices they seem to have made a bargain with Mephisto.  Finally, like the pilgrims in T.S. Eliot’s poem, we (and they) finish our challenging yet entertaining journey by ending where we began, and knowing it for the first time.

The trio format creates even more intimacy than is usual at ZJU, and makes even more demands upon the performers.  Remarkably, they’re equal to it — with boundless energy, unwavering focus and impressive versatility.  A warning:  View this work as a play or story, and you’ll feel disoriented and disappointed; view it as an hour of “theme and variations,” like a trio sonata, and you’re likely to be fascinated and rewarded.
Nightmares Trio, created by the company, directed by Zombie Joe.
Presented by Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group at the ZJU Theatre, 4850 N. Lankershim Blvd.

Saturdays at 11:00 pm, through March 21st.

Tickets: <www.ZombieJoes.tix.com> or (818) 202-4120.



Tales from the Underground
This hour, emceed by ZJU veteran Jim Eshom, brings one troupe member at a time to the mic, to tell stories.  The tales are only as scripted as each teller prefers, and the mix of tellers this Sunday is different from those whom I saw and heard last week.

Suffice to say that this is the raw material of the ZJU company’s productions.  Just individual members — sans script, costume, makeup, music or the usually intense presence of other actors onstage.

It’s a low-keyed hour of unpredictable variety.  The only constant is the level of focus and presence these artists bring, even when they have no character to be in but their own.  Again:  Approach it as an evening of theatre, and you’ll be confused.  Imagine a group of pro singers gathered around a piano sharing favorites — now switch it to actors, and you’ll have a fine time.
Tales from the Underground, created by the company, hosted by Jim Eshom.
Presented by Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group at the ZJU Theatre, 4850 N. Lankershim Blvd.

Sunday, March 8 at 11:00 pm.

Tickets: <www.ZombieJoes.tix.com> or (818) 202-4120.