Tuesday, March 3, 2009

ZOMBIE (Theatre Row Studio)

By Scott
disturbing • one-man show • 75 Minutes • left me cold

Bill Connington as Quentin P. in ZOMBIE. c Dixie Sheridan

BOTTOM LINE: This story wouldn’t lure me into a van.

I don’t really know what to say about ZOMBIE. On paper it has all the makings of a big hit, and it probably will be. It is a carryover from last summer’s New York Fringe Festival where it enjoyed a sold-out run. It has been getting rave reviews all over town. It is based on a novella written by Pulitzer Prize nominated author Joyce Carol Oates. It is adeptly adapted and performed by Bill Connington. The production values are all crisp and top notch. Everything about this play points towards the hit that it probably will be. And yet I hated it.

Okay, maybe “hate” is too strong, but I didn’t like it. Now there is a very good chance that my strong reaction, albeit negative, is exactly what the creators of ZOMBIE are trying to achieve. And if that is the case, and if that is what you want from a theatrical experience, then you should definitely go see it. But the main problem I had with ZOMBIE was not so much the subject matter (a gay serial killer who kidnaps and mutilates young men in the Detroit area) or even the narrative structure (one man onstage breaking the fourth wall and telling his story directly to the audience), it was the complete lack of humanity revealed by Quentin P, Connington's character. I understand, of course, that we are dealing with a serial killer here, but if I am going to be asked to invest time in someone's story, particularly a monster, I need something – a hint or suggestion that there is a wounded, vulnerable human being in there that just flipped a circuit and went the wrong way – and that he needs to tell me his story for his own redemption...that he needs to be heard in order to be healed. I will listen to that. I can identify with that. I can potentially see myself in that and can project all my fears about the worst potentials of myself onto that. But ZOMBIE is written and played with an emotional distance that left me not only cold, but out in the cold.

From the moment the play started, I found it very hard to be engaged or to stay focused. This story of a man who was able to lure men into his van could not lure my attention for more than two or three minutes at a time. My mind continually wandered, and when I forced my attention back on the play, I felt only disgust for Quentin, not the requisite pathos or sympathy or even curiosity for the details of his depravity that would make this play work for me. Eventually even the production values, the harsh lighting and sparse antiseptic set started to work against me. About twenty minutes before it ended, I wanted to get out of there. The entire event was stifling.

Clearly, however, it seems to be just me. As I mentioned, the notices for this play have been incredibly positive, and the audience I saw the play with was incredibly responsive. Connington’s character work is flawless and his focus onstage effectively disturbing. But it just wasn’t enough to draw me in. And I really wanted to like this play. I really did. And while I concede that everything it does it does exceedingly well, I have to admit that all it did for me, was give me seventy-five minutes to contemplate where I was going to go for drinks after the show.

(ZOMBIE plays at Theatre Row's Studio Theatre, 410 West 42 Street, through March 28th. Performance times are Thursday-Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 3pm. Tickets are $21.25 and can be purchased online at ticketcentral.com or by calling 212-279-4200. For more info, visit zombietheplay.com.)

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