Photo by The Players Theatre
by: Paula Atwell | Theater Critic | The Observer
Consider it an appetizer to your Halloween festivities, served up by Backstage at The Players. A Florida premiere, “Zombie Town: a Documentary Play” fits perfectly in the intimate, tattered-black-curtain style minimalist space, which was conceived to promote edgier, contemporary works.
Written by bay area playwright Tim Bauer, the play is more accurately called a mockumentary in that it parodies eyewitness reports popular on television and some theatrical events. The main conceit is that the “Catharsis Theatre Collective,” from San Francisco, arrive in the town of Harwood, Texas, which has recently survived a horrific zombie attack, in order to interview the survivors and “bring these people the healing that can only come from theater.” Clearly, the piece derives most of its comedy from sardonic remarks, taking shots at hokey Texans and Frisco intellectuals in equal measure. The farcical elements worked best for me, however, and my favorite bit was the delightfully ludicrous “Undead Chorus Line” at the end. More dancing zombies please!
Tightly directed by Linda MacCluggage, the first act consists mainly of interviews with various townspeople. Although much of the dialogue is cleverly, if subtly, written, the result is somewhat slow-going. Pulling off this type of past-tense narrative satire is demanding and requires performers who are comically gifted in their own right. Fortunately for the playwright, this was supplied in abundance by the cast.
Wearing a loud plaid jacket, Adam Garrison kick-starts the introductions as Mayor Anson. After reference to the town’s graveyard, known as Boca del Inferno (Hell Mouth), Chuck Conlon takes over as the grave-digger who muses “Did I sleep dig?” over the mysteriously open graves. All five cast members play multiple roles believably as they become various townspeople, as well as the members of the “Collective.”
The second act moves more quickly, with three characters trapped in an old farmhouse by hordes of somnolent zombies. Always funny, Christine Alexander (who also portrays a thick-skinned tavern owner) plays Annie Dalton, a superficial girlie-girl who nevertheless is the first to note that zombies are slow. Ren Pearson is energetic as a Led Zeppelin-loving hyperactive rock and roller. A presumably intelligent accountant is well-played by David Tyler Murrell.
By Steven J. Smith • Theatre Critic • SCENE Magazine
Photo by Mark Palmer • Mars Vision
As one character in Tim Bauer’s “Zombie Town: A Documentary Play” so aptly puts it, “Zombie attacks are all fun and games — until they happen to you!”
Billed as “a play that has brains … and eats them, too,” this ferociously funny and irreverent comedy that director Linda MacCluggage discovered at the Orlando Shakespeare Theatre’s festival of new plays last year is the perfect Halloween trick or treat, playing Oct. 11-14 and 18-21 at Backstage at the Players — an intimate 60-seat black box spinoff space, accessed through the south side rear door of the theater’s main building.
Tautly directed by Ms. MacCluggage, the show is a parody of so-called “eyewitness theater,” which tells the story of a San Francisco actors’ collective that travels to Harwood, Texas — the scene of an unexpected and hilariously grisly zombie attack. The wonderful five-person cast, Ren Pearson, Chuck Conlon, Christine Alexander, Adam Garrison, and David Tyler Murrell, comprises the theatre troupe — and by extension the town’s citizenry — in telling the story of reanimated corpses that wreak havoc on the sleepy backwoods town.
It’s too hard to praise one cast member over another. Suffice it to say they all do a phenomenal job of embodying the wonderfully diverse and hysterically funny Harwood denizens. Just hang on to your seat as they throw you head over heels into the mystifying developments that have led to the reawakening of several hundred of Harwood Cemetery’s occupants. What caused it? Was it a delayed after-effect of radiation released from the Manhattan Project? Is Harwood a “Hellmouth” — an inter-dimensional portal known to exist only in one or two other cities, including Cleveland, Ohio? One thing’s for sure. Things are not normal in Harwood.
A word about Backstage at the Players. If you haven’t seen a show there, you should. Its goal is to produce challenging and compelling contemporary work in a spirit of adventure for actors and audiences alike. Be prepared, however. The plays are edgier than the more family-friendly fare offered on the Players’ mainstage. The language can get a little rough, too, so be forewarned. But if you enjoy a theatre experience that challenges, pokes, and prods you — as I do — you’re going to love it. I saw their production of “Three Tall Women” last season and it was just marvelous. Kudos to the Players for taking this stimulating and trailblazing step forward.
So go see “Zombie Town.” Then be sure to tell your friends. And remember: Kill the brain and you kill the ghoul!
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