You take your seat in one of the three rows of chairs
in the boxy theater, which is painted entirely black. Zombie Joe slides shut
the door through which you entered the theater – painted to look like a heavy
chamber door – and for a few moments you and the other audience members shift
in your seats or talk excitedly amongst yourselves in anticipation of what’s to
come. The scent of burning incense is heavy in the air. Suddenly, the little
theater is plunged into darkness, eliciting both excitement and fear for the
first-time Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre attendees. You hear some shuffling
around, the rustle of cloth, and the anticipation – and intimacy – of the
theater builds. You begin to wonder: What have I gotten myself into?
It’s a setting only Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre
could provide and you’re there to see the ZJU Theatre Group’s production of
Soul Less, a play that combines murder, gore, witty monologues, and a heavy
dose of irony. At the heart of the play is Amy, a 16-year-old, self-proclaimed
genius who has been abandoned by both mother and father and has dreams of
making great contributions to science. Don’t be fooled by Amy’s girlish blonde
pigtails, however. By the end of the play, she’s got blood on her dress and a
wild, murderous look in her eye that means trouble for the play’s other
characters. Amy lives by the rule “The end justifies the means” and no one is
safe once in Amy’s clutches. The other characters – a jock with a blonde mop,
an angry-at-the-world-and-yearning-for-attention rebel, a depressed teen with
multiple face piercings who wears a hood at all times, and an outspoken
conspiracy theorist with a man-ponytail, to name a few – dance like puppets in
Amy’s fantasy of scientifically proving that a soul exists.
There’s only one way for Amy to accomplish this: she
must kill her subjects – 13 in all – and observe closely for evidence of a
soul. Amy tries to do this the right way at first, attracting a duo with
repeated attempts at suicide – 7 times boasts the angry rebel, beating out the
depressed teen’s 5 times. After this plan fails, Amy has to resort to luring
unsuspecting victims without an obvious death wish back to her lab, a fairly
easy task for an innocent-looking, blonde teenage girl.
Between the sly one-liners, outrageous situational
humor, and horror at discovering what Amy was capable of, the play races along
to the end, with the audience anxious to find out who she will kill next and
how they will die.
It’s difficult to pity most of Amy’s victims and we’re
usually left laughing at their expense.
“Initiate cardiac arrest through electric shock,” says
Amy. “Uhh, okay,” giggles the handcuffed blonde jock, lost in what he believes
to be a kinky game Amy likes to play.
The cast certainly lived up to the demands of the
production – which was light on props, heavy on acting. Early on there were
some prop mishaps and Aimee Lynn Chadwick, playing Amy, pushed right through
them, in character, and carried the rest of the play as a convincing teenage psychopath
with just the right mix of naiveté and depravity. Her subjects and
acquaintances were brought to life by David Wyn Harris, Miles Cooper, Aviva
Brandes, Matt Ronzani, and Dennis Luciani. Notable of these actors was Matt
Ronzani in his scene as a date rapist. After Amy feeds him a dose of his own
roofies mixed with an additional substance, the combination of which create a
lethal poison, the rapist dies, spluttering, and gasping for indifferent Amy’s help – “What is wrong with you?!” he chokes out as Amy pretends not to
understand what 9-1-1 is. It’s a death scene worthy of this murderous rampage
of a play.
Somewhere in between a lust for science and a teenage
girl’s frustration that her subjects won’t cooperate because they just don’t
understand the great contribution their deaths could make to the world, Amy’s calm,
calculating exterior begins to fall to pieces and we get to watch the emergence
of a serial killer without anyone to keep her in check.
If you’re looking for a healthy dose of horrific fun
outside of the month of October, Zombie Joe’s is the place.
The venue is intimate and it’s almost as if you’re
welcomed through the doors of Zombie Joe’s home to experience the play, which
itself feels like an interaction between actor and audience, though there is no
audience participation. Upon reception at the door by Zombie Joe himself, you
wait in the theater’s lounge, which provides comfortable seating and an
opportunity to chat with friends or mingle with other audience members while
examining the art on the walls and breathing in the heady aroma of burning
As soon as the doors to the theater open, the fun
Don’t miss Soul Less, which is playing now through June
30, on Friday and Saturday nights starting at 8:30 p.m. Tickets can be
purchased at the door, which opens at 8 p.m. For more information on Soul Less
and Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group, check out ZombieJoes.com.
Photo Credits: JANA WIMER