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The FOLA ensemble in Zombie Joe's  Festival of Living Art 2017  (photo by Zombie Joe's Underground)
The FOLA ensemble in Zombie Joe’s Festival of Living Art 2017 (photo by Zombie Joe’s Underground)

Festival of Living Art 2017

Reviewed by Gray Palmer
Zombie Joe’s Underground
Through September 4


Zombie Joe is in a silly mood with his new pageant, Festival of Living Art 2017, another set of wordless images separated by blackouts.

In The Thief’s Journal (Journal du voleur, 1949), Jean Genet gives an account of little photos — a hidden criminal portrait gallery — attached with saliva-moistened bits of bread to the backside of a prison regulation card. From one point of view, these pictures were, after all, “…just the darker side of sets of regulations, just so much graffiti on a prison wall…” (Hebdige, Subculture, 1979) — but from another point of view, they were coded signs of revolt. And as animated pictures, these photos would overlook Genet’s autoerotic “little routines” in his prison cell, a theme he would take up in his only film, Un chant d’amour (1950) with cinematography by Jean Cocteau…

Zombie Joe’s pictures can look back at you, too. Festival of Living Art 2017 — his third iteration of “gallery” tableaux vivant — is a very funny answer to the multi-million-dollar kitsch spectacle in Laguna Beach, Pageant of the Masters; this is a sort of dumpster-diving version, a living-graffiti show.

Pageant of the Masters has a $230 ticket price (cheaper seats will need add-ons for binoculars and seat cushion), whereas you can pan-handle the price of the ticket to FOLA 2017 in an afternoon.

Laguna Beach may have dozens of professionals and 500 volunteers to create their tableaux vivant, but Zombie Joe has only eight undead performers, “the unsurpassable FOLA ensemble.”

The program has no text, or virtually none. Sometimes there are animal noises. As we watch the breathless (for the most part) “recreation” of pictures by the talented FOLA ensemble, oblique commentary is provided by Zombie Joe’s musical selections, beginning with Lou Reed’s “Satellite of Love” (with the notable lyric — especially for zombies — “I like to watch things on TV”). Badly wired musical bombast, as usual for ZJ, is also here — an insistent autotune version of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” plays and replays with interruptions.

In lieu of a catalogue, the program has an almost microscopic list of the 54 (count ‘em!) pictures. Big Box museum art is included, as you can see from the photo of “Guernica” accompanying this review. But there are also renditions of Milton Bradley game box illustrations, flashes from TV attributed to Harpo Marx and Lucille Ball, bits from Keith Haring, Banksy, and pictures which could only be from lost-and-found sketch-books.

Scholars inform us that the popular American tradition of tableaux vivant was often balanced between valeur educative and titillation. At one time, performers featured in recreations of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus (of course that’s featured here) were frequently arrested for indecency. But ZJU’s FOLA 2017 is simply provocative (in a satirical way), and observes a fluid sexual orientation — Joe is a warm zombie, friendly and inclusive.

The very good performers are Charlotte Bjornbak, Susan Marie Chambers, Gloria Galvan, Brett Gustafson, Ian Heath, Esther Lane, Carson Frae Meyer and Cara Rosselot. Special props, graphics and costumes are by Jeri Batzdorff, Jana Wimer, Michael Jagosz, Denise Devin and Charlotte Bjornbak. The guest directors are Jana Wimer and Gloria Galvan.

Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Sun. & Mon. at 8:30pm; through September 4. (818) 202-4120, Running time: one hour without intermission.