Eat My Zombie Shorts!

I had no idea what to expect from this one, but this is an instance in which the title proved to be pretty Goddamn accurate: a collection of short sketches about zombies.

I’m a huge fan of zombie flicks — I’ve cheerfully consumed the entirety of Romero’s oeuvre — but I’ll confess to a growing weariness of the genre onstage, where it seems to have devolved into little more than a handy marketing gimmick. So I was initially pretty resistant, but I have to admit that I was charmed in spite of myself — found myself chuckling pretty regularly by the end.

It suffers from the typical pitfalls of a lot of sketch comedy, primarily that the sketches start out with a funny joke, and I laugh at it, and then…they kind of go on with the same joke for a while, trudging down a fairly predictable structure — I knew the final punchline of each sketch about five minutes in advance, and I really found myself longing for one to surprise me, to really stun me into laughter.

The one exception — and, in that respect, the standout piece of the show — was “Left My Arm in San Francisco,” a wordless sketch that consistently leapt from one unexpected place to another. The show gets the “puppetry” genre label in the programme, and while I was disappointed that its presence in the show was so brief, it was definitely the highlight.

Acting’s a bit all over the map, though there’s a few fine performances — the comedy is consistently funnier when it’s played straight. There’s a wide range of ways in which the zombies are portrayed, the most successful of which I found in “Meat the Cleavers” — where the zombies conducted themselves as perfectly normal and articulate beings, then suddenly lapsed into shuffling monsters before snapping out of it again — and in “Zombie Dating for Dummies,” in which the zombie’s best friend behaved as though in a typical frat-boy buddy-comedy, carrying on one-sided conversations and barely acknowledging his companion’s inarticulate and homicidal nature.

I wasn’t totally in love with the frame story — partly because it was another instance of a single joke, this one stretched throughout the entirety of the show — and partly because it suggests a kind of narrative unity that doesn’t really exist. I don’t mind that zombies are portrayed six different ways in six different sketches, but the framing device creates the implication that they’re all taking place in the same universe, which was initially confusing to me.

The two remaining sketches, while not particularly deep (and that’s not a knock, they’re not trying to be), successfully evoked something of the satirical spirit of the best zombie flicks: the gimmick of “Evolution of the Techno Zombie” was, again, totally clear and predictable within, like, the first twenty seconds, but it was short enough that I didn’t mind; and “Love Bites” had a kind of sad, hilarious pathos. (I was a bit disappointed in the five-second stinger at the end, that revealed the protagonists’ ultimate fate; I preferred the ambiguity.)

I like zombies, and they’re kicking them around here with a little bit of thoughtfulness and a lot of silliness. The pieces vary wildly — some enjoyable, some less so — but I certainly didn’t mind spending the time with them, and I was enjoying myself more often than not. It’s worth catching if you’re in the area.

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