Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Stage Review: Theatre 68's THE AFFLICTED (+ Post-Halloween Recap)

At first, like any good Halloweenie, I was disappointed that my favorite holiday was going to fall on a Thursday this year. Now that the Halloween season is behind us (well...mostly), I have to say that I really dug this Halloween-on-a-Thursday business! Did anyone else feel like they had at least 3 separate Halloweens? It was like no one could agree whether or not the weekend before or after the 31st was going to be the unofficial party/celebration day, so both weekends were infused with Halloween goodness, in addition to the day itself. I had a particularly full Halloween season this year. Among my activities:
  • Pumpkin carving, natch
  • Lots of solo nighttime horror movie watching (the Paranormal Activity movies - especially 3 and 4 - REALLY freak me out still)
  • A wonderful visit to Knott's Scary Farm, complete with a live Elvira show
  • American Horror Story: Coven premiere party, at which I (very, very briefly) met Kathy Bates, saw Jessica Lange and Angela Bassett in person & drank themed cocktails...later in the month, one of my band's songs was featured on the show's Halloween episode (!)
  • One-year wedding anniversary celebration at the Magic Castle, my favorite place in LA
  • Cemetery screening of The Craft, which also doubled as my birthday celebration
  • Witnessing astonishing live performances from Goblin and Danny Elfman
  • Seeing one of my poems published in a UK horror magazine and reading one of my short stories at Stories in Echo Park
All told, this was my best October (actually mid-September through beginning-of-November) in memory. And I had a particularly great weekend planned to send it off in style: On Saturday, Mr. Spooky and I visited the Eternal Rest Cemetery yard haunt in Venice for the first time (LOVED it!) and attended a friend's costume/birthday party. And, finally, on Sunday, we headed out to the Valley to catch Theatre 68's production of The Afflicted, a zombie play at the NoHo Arts Center that bills itself as a "dark comedy" - albeit one with perhaps the most fake blood I've ever seen in a stage production...and hey, I've been a cast member at Zombie Joe's, so that's saying something. Like, oceans of fake blood. Like, here-are-some-ponchos-for-the-front-row fake blood. This was to be my last official Halloween-related event for 2013, so needless to say I was tickled.

But The Afflicted has more going for it than simply fake blood. Theatre 68 used to have its own location in Hollywood, where it would host a really cool annual haunted house, but they're currently in a transitional period as they look for a new home. While they couldn't pull off a haunted house this year, they did manage to put on a really fun zombie show that heavily - and explicitly - references George Romero, but often with tongue lodged firmly in cheek. The vibe is a bit like Night of the Living Dead meets Scream, as characters discuss the "rules" of a zombie apocalypse, or whether or not the Z-word should be used at all to describe "the afflicted."

All of the action takes place in a church, and the set design, while simple, is nicely done and very evocative; it's easy to lose yourself in this play. This is also an extraordinarily action-packed production: Doors fly open and slam shut, blanks are fired, power tools are utilized to gory effect, characters burst through windows and blood, of course, is spilled, squirted and splattered.

I have to admit that I do have some complaints about the writing. For example: It's 2013, dude. Can we please have a zombie apocalypse in which the female characters actively participate in, you know, boarding up windows and popping zombies instead of just crying, screaming or sniping? I know the hysterical woman is a genre convention, and this is a production that plays with conventions, but I still felt like rolling my eyes when not one of the three major female characters were given much to do in the way of actual and effective anti-zombie strategy and/or execution. At 80 minutes, the play also felt a little bit long - just a bit - especially during the "talkier" stretches.

Fortunately, all of the actors attacked their roles with admirable gusto. Jeremy Luke, who plays "Cop Guy," is all masculine swagger borne of intense insecurity, making his character both the primary source of comic relief and the most dangerous wild card among the survivors that populate the cast. (Incidentally, the program says that he has been cast as Mickey Cohen in an upcoming TNT show called Mob City, which sounds like great casting to me.) Shelly Hacco, as Tamara, displays a saucy vitality as a street-smart stripper who winds up seeking refuge in the church, and Eddie Alfano is memorable as a character called, simply, "Douchebag." 

Perhaps the best part of the entire play is the last 5 minutes. It's not exactly a surprise, but I'm going to refrain from saying too much about what happens and instead encourage you to go check out The Afflicted if you've got the post-Halloween, pre-Christmas blues.  It is, mercifully, running until November 16 (yay for Halloween things that extend past the end of October!), so you still have a couple more weekends. And don't forget to use that poncho if you snag a seat in the front - because, oh yes, there will be blood.

Theatre 68's The Afflicted runs Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through November 16 at the NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601 . Friday and Saturday shows start at 8pm, and Sunday shows start at 7pm. 
Disclosure: I was provided with complimentary passes to review this event.


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