Zombies never second guess. Zombies have no regrets. Are you ready to be converted?
At: The Firehouse Theatre, 1609 West Broad Street, RVA 23220
Performances: August 18-29, 2021. August 18-20, previews. August 21 Premiere. Limited seating due to COVID. All audience members must be fully vaccinated and wear masks inside The Firehouse. Remaining tickets sold out online as of Friday, October 26, but call the Box Office to check if seats have opened up.
Ticket Prices: $33
Info: (804) 355-2001 or firehousetheatre.org
The premise of Chris Gavaler’s new play, The Zombie Life, is that life is better as a Zombie. Zombies do not feel guilt, shame, or emotional pain. They have no responsibilities, don’t have to plan for the future, and have no regrets about the past. So, we find ourselves in the audience as Gavaler’s unnamed* Therapist (Ken Moretti) begins a self-help seminar, the purpose of which is to hear Zombies share their experiences and, hopefully, be convinced to join their ranks. *[The Therapist is unnamed on the program, but elsewhere identified as Dr. Steve Brandeis.]
One Woman (Shalandis Wheeler Smith) comes to the seminar weighed down by the demands of life and her over-stuffed tote bag. She interrupts the Therapist and decides to commit to becoming a Zombie even before the demonstration begins. For the rest of the play, which runs an hour and fifteen minutes with no intermission, the Woman learns the ropes of The Zombie Life as her four mentors demonstrate for the audience.
“Being dead is so much easier, so much safer.”
The Therapist uses objects recycled from their past lives and other found objects to trigger memories of the futility of searching for the meaning of life: a pair of doctors involved in Zombie research, a creepy mortician, a mindless soldier, a couple of cannibals, a group of confederate sympathizers, a sex worker, and the mother of a stillborn baby are among the object examples of human pain, suffering, and foibles. But try as he might, the Therapist has a hard time controlling his little band of Zombies, played with varying degrees of creepiness, conviction, and overacting by Marjie Southerland, Jacqueline Jones, PJ Freebourn, and Keaton Hillman.
“Uncertainty. That’s your soul trying to get your attention.”
I was never sure if the creepy asides and overacting was intentional. I have seen and thoroughly enjoyed all six of these actors in many productions over the years, and I know that they are all capable of giving stellar performances. But Chris Gavaler’s script just didn’t reach stellar levels. The script is scattered and awkward and not even a highly professional cast, or earnest direction by Gavaler’s sister, Joan Gavaler, or interesting movement sequences by Dan Plehal could bring a sense of cohesiveness and focus to this production.
The Zombie Life is different, for sure, and there are more than a few moments of humor. It is thought-provoking, and incorporates relevant social, philosophical, and spiritual issues. It just doesn’t work in its present form. Tickets for the remaining performances are sold out, but if you dare or care to see it for yourself, do call The Firehouse Box Office (804) 355-2001 as a few of the limited and socially distanced seats may open up at the last minute.
Written by Chris Gavaler
Directed by Joan Gavaler
Movement Director – Dan Plehal
Production Designer – Todd Labelle
Costume Designer – Annette Hairfield
Prop Designer – AC Wilson
Crew – Emma Avelis & Scott Shepardson
Stage Manager – Grace Brown
Therapist – Ken Moretti
Woman – Shalandis Wheeler Smith
Zombie #1 – Marjie Southerland
Zombie #2 – Jacqueline Jones
Zombie #3 – PJ Freebourn
Zombie #4 – Keaton Hillman
Wed Aug 18 7:30pm (preview)
Thu Aug 19 7:30pm (preview)
Fri Aug 20 7:30pm (preview)
Sat Aug 21 7:30pm
Thu Aug 26 7:30pm
Fri Aug 27 7:30pm
Sat Aug 28 7:30pm
Sun Aug 29 3pm
Photos: Bill Sigafoos