Entering into Zombie Joe’s Underground feels more like you are meeting up with old friends in their home. Little did I know that “Zombie Joe” truly DOES exist, and he is the kind, friendly man welcoming you into his theatre! The lobby is intimate, dimly lit with candles and contains several cozy couches as well as a Halloween-esque zombie head or two. The walls are adorned with lovely paintings for sale as you walk into the black box theatre.
Based on the 1864 Russian novella by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Notes from Underground begins at 8:30 sharp. The venue fades as black as can be imagined, making for a somewhat spooky vibe and leaving audience members to wonder what exactly is about to happen. When the spotlights come up, we are greeted by Alex (AKA “The Underground Man,” played by Michael Blomgren) and Apollo (TJ Alvarado). Apollo begins singing a hilarious song urging you to not walk away in silence. It is a humorous number the audience loves, highlighting Alvarado’s talent as a musician, both on vocals and later on guitar.
When we are left to get more acquainted with The Underground Man, we soon learn that he is eccentric, isolated and lonely, even though he would like you to think he wants no one in life; he does not trust many. Blomgren is priceless at pulling off his manic monologues and his mannerisms are spot-on. A theme I really found to be at the forefront was Alex’s self-loathing. He considers himself more a mouse than a man; his speech regarding this makes you ponder what must have gone on, perhaps during his days in the military, to drive him to these ways.
When we are introduced to an old class chum, Simone (Julie Bermel), Alex is eager to be included in a party she is organizing, where he meets the beautiful Liza (Jenna Jacobson), following a hysterical song and dance from Simone and other classmates who clearly do not want Alex at the soiree. After feeling rejected by Simone, Alex is later seduced by Liza. Jacobson steals the show with her arousing, erotic dance number that is successful in winning Alex over. We soon find out Liza has many hang-ups like Alex, and perhaps is not as confident as that sexy dance might lead you to believe. But, unlike Alex, Liza does not want to push people away. She longs for a friend. You can feel a strong bond between these two characters and, when all is said and done, you’ll find yourself rooting for both of them.
In yet another profound speech, The Underground Man explains if you have love in your life, you can go without being happy. These thought-provoking words give the audience much pause after all the humor of the scenes prior.
Despite the little stage at Zombie Joe’s, director Josh T. Ryan and the cast do an excellent job at using the room they have within and around the audience, making the audience feel as though they’ve been transported to each and every setting.
Notes from Underground plays at Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood every Friday through March 1st (with the exception of February 15th) at 8:30 pm. Tickets are $15 and reservations are recommended (call 818-202-4120). For more information, please visit www.ZombieJoes.com.