Written by Shannon McGrew
Situated in the NoHO district of Los Angeles, CA is an unassuming building with large letters above the door that read Z.J.U. To those who aren’t familiar with this destination, if looks just like any other storefront, minus the fact that this one has blackout windows. If you were to sneak a peek inside, what would be waiting for you would be a treasure of horror theatrics that beckon those who have a love of all things terrifying and immersive.
Z.J.U., or Zombie Joe’s Underground Theater, is one of the best spots to experience unique, one-of-a-kind performance art under the broad umbrella of horror. I have been attending shows at ZJU for the past year or so, and each time I leave, I’m left speechless and amazed. With that said, their latest adaptation of their successful “Urban Death” series has quickly become one of my favorites and I’m still sitting here days afterward trying to wrap my head around all that unfolded.
“Urban Death” is a series of performances that have been going on at ZJU for far longer than I have been attending. From what I have gathered through my experiences attending these shows, they are a study into the secret lives of those who appear to have a mundane life. It’s also a glimpse into the last moments of some of those people’s lives as they hang on the precipice between life and death. This definitely isn’t a show for the faint of heart, as it deals with subject matter that is quite disturbing, case in point this performance has a vignette showcasing the moment before a school shooting. If you are sensitive to certain scenarios, I would definitely suggest being mentally prepared before coming to an “Urban Death” show, as you may find yourself understandably upset.
With that warning out of the way, let’s delve into the show itself. There are no frills when it comes to the performances. The set design is minimal in that there is no set design, instead, the actors rely on their performances to paint the picture for the audience. Also, how these actors set up their scenes is nothing less than impressive as it’s all done in pitch black. In between each vignette, the lights go off as the actors silently get into position for their next scene leaving the audience in the dark (pun intended) as to what is going to happen next.
Each performance that these actors do is thought provoking and passionate. The themes run the gamut of real life horrors touching upon subjects that deal with school shootings, sexual assault, and murder to nightmarish visions such as supernatural entities, demons, vampires, and nameless creatures. As with all of Zombie Joe’s shows, they are unapologetic and raw, as the actors stand before the audience (sometimes completely naked) with no inhibitions. It’s incredibly powerful and leaves quite an impression on those that are viewing it. There are a few moments throughout the show where comedy relief is injected so as to give the audience a little breather, but even those have a layer of dread and discomfort intertwined throughout.
Overall, “Urban Death” is an experience that is going to be different for each person. It’s in your face while never holding back which is why I love it so much. It’s a show that may not be for everyone, but for those who are looking for something different or those wanting to push the boundaries of immersive art, then this is going to be right up your alley. “Urban Death” will be playing now until April 29 in North Hollywood and tickets can be purchased at ZombieJoes.Tix.com or by visiting their website at www.zombiejoes.com.