Continued Risk-Taking Vibrancy

Stage RawZombie Joe’s Underground has long been L.A.’s premier stage purveyor of psychological horror. The theater’s signature production, Urban Death (whose current incarnation closes May 31), remains a viscerally potent iteration of the subgenre’s first tenet — that which is unseen is far more spine-chilling than that which is visible in the light of day.

Manicomio, director Sebastian Muñoz’ captivating follow-up to last January’s Zombie Joe-directed Nightmares, represents the second chapter in ZJU’s experimental probing of psychological horror’s second tenet — the truly frightening is that which is unspeakable, but which is present in the deep emotional scars and half-remembered life traumas that mark us all. (“Manicomio,” by the way, is Spanish for “madhouse.”)

As it happens, the unspeakable is also a very apt description of good art, which strives to show rather than tell, and in Manicomio’s 13 loosely connected and discomfiting, company-created pieces woven from song, choreography and text, the unspeakable takes center stage — in what might best be described as 13 highly theatricalized nervous breakdowns.

The show’s most emblematic metaphor comes during the preshow, when the ensemble directly intermingles with the audience and engages in informal banter that is continuously broken by a discordant clang — during which the actors freeze mid-sentence until a subsequent clang releases their paralysis and they continue as if uninterrupted. This show, the gesture implies, is concerned less with what is literally being said than with the interstitial meanings that lurk between the words.

What follows ranges from the eerily haunting (Jessica Weiner witnessing key moments of her life as a disembodied specter) to the mordantly harrowing (Jackie Lastra as a little girl whose good thoughts about her friends are systematically poisoned by dark suggestions from her homicidally-inclined doll) to the heartbreaking (Ramona Creel expressing a powerful simultaneous combination of grief, terror, and wistful first love), the manically sardonic (Leif La Duke singing a winsome love-ballad to his beloved Lisa that turns increasingly disturbed and plaintively desperate) to the outright megalomaniacal (Tyler Koster channeling his despair and feelings of isolation into the messianic delusion that he is “the prophet”).

The commanding Joaquin De La Rua (performing a stunning, flamenco-accented lamentation) and Kevin Van Cott (who provides live musical accompaniment costumed as a polar bear) are merely two standouts (Jared Adams, Charlotte Bjornbak, Jahel Corbán Caldera, Samm Hill, R. Benjamin Warren and Anne Westcott round out the finely tuned ensemble) in an evening that eloquently testifies to the continuing, risk-taking vibrancy of ZJU’s creative reach.

(review courtesy of Stage Raw)

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Ramona Creel is an award-winning 15-year veteran organizer and member of the National Association Of Professional Organizers. As well as having birthed “The A-To-Z Of Getting Organized,” Ramona is also the author of “The Professional Organizer’s Bible: A Slightly Irreverent And Completely Unorthodox Guide For Turning Clutter Into A Career”—and the creator of more than 200 “quick-start” business tools and templates for use by productivity professionals. She writes seven different blogs, has worked with hundreds of clients, and has delivered scores of presentations on getting organized. Ramona resides on the roads of America as a full-time RVer—living and working in a 29-foot Airstream. Learn more at and RamonaCreel.com.

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