Reviewed by Lara J. Altunian
Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group
Through December 17
Astroglyde 2017 is a short, zany evening of grassroots theater hidden away in the Valley’s NoHo Arts District. The show consists of eight short solo pieces written and performed by company members of Zombie Joe’s Underground (ZJU) Theatre Group. Each one involves a tragic situation in which a twist leads to a comic conclusion, or intensifies the horror of the circumstances, or both. The narratives are well thought out and delivered simply, offering glimpses into people’s lives so realistic that they illuminate feelings most of us can relate to in times of crisis.
The plays are staged against a black background in an intimate setting the size of a bedroom. There are no props and the costumes are minimalistic. The emphasis is on the writing and the performances. Sometimes a sentiment in one play is mirrored in another. For example, a superstitious Italian mother in “A Mother’s Love” (Elif Savas) shows as much concern for her son as a struggling actor does for his career (Benjamin Cramer in “Cattle Call”). Similarly, a forgotten mink vest (Ellen Bienenfeld in “Out of the Closet”) can be just as lonely as the first man on Mars (Hunter Bolton in “The Space Between Us”). The characters in these plays share elements of anxiety, fear and courage, and their desperation and self-awareness often feel raw.
The contributions of the directors are visible in each scene. Zombie Joe takes on “Squirreled Away” (Esther Eden) and “A Cinderella Story” (Samantha Severson) — two dark anecdotes about abuse with painful turns and surprises. Both stand out as the most jolting of the evening. They are well-balanced by the respective follow-ups — “Cattle Call,” a comedy directed by Adam Neubauer, and “Mother, Brother and Will” (Abbott Alexander) directed by Denise Devin. Devin handles more complex emotional journeys with this dark comical piece, and also in “All the Scots” (David Dickens), which features snobby contempt evolving into a distaste for violence.
The evening provides a brief escape from the madness of the outside world without disconnecting from it completely. Unlike the spaciness suggested by its title, Astroglyde 2017 remains relatively grounded even as it preserves its quirks.
Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Dec. 17. (918) 202-4120 or http://zombiejoes.tix.com/. Running time: 70 minutes with no intermission.