Stray Cat's Twelfth Night of the Living Dead Is Lifeless

Audience members who attend Stray Cat Theatre's current show can buy $5 ponchos before entering the playhouse. The ponchos are meant to protect the clothing of those sitting in the first few rows from being spattered with the fake gore that is the real star of this worthless one-act. Unfortunately, the theater is not offering for sale anything to mitigate the indulgent sloppiness of Twelfth Night of the Living Dead.

This mash-up of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night and the zombie epics created by gore master George Romero is a one-joke burlesque that plays like an under-rehearsed Saturday Night Live sketch — and one of the worst ones, too. On paper, recasting the Bard's most popular comedy as a monster movie seems like a cute groove, but as adapted by Brian MacInnis Smallwood and directed by actor Cale Epps, it's merely silly and monotonous. As actors tromp to and fro on David J. Castellano's imaginative set — truly the only thing I liked about this tedious production — they are chased by actors in zombie costumes who, one by one, kill and eat them, spraying the stage and the audience with guts and gore.

But watching a green-faced, bug-eyed actor munching a disgorged spleen is funny for only so long, and the overall effect is that of a group of drunken frat boys stumbling their way through Shakespeare while a bunch of Halloween revelers try to disrupt the party by wandering around grunting and eating spaghetti drenched in "blood." The only thing more sick-making than the endless fake foam and spittle falling from the mouths of Epps' sophomore actors is the failed attempts at iambic pentameter they also emit. The zombies, with their endless growls and heavings, are more eloquent than the various varlets and Madonnas who eventually become their dinner. Shakespeare is difficult enough for contemporary audiences to endure, but read with these mush-mouthed, untrained intonations, it's unbearable.

Twelfth Night of the Living Dead is not an entertainment so much as it is a warning: This, the play seems to be saying, is what comes of the now-tired trend in grafting zombies onto all things literary. It's an unscholarly conceit that does nothing to enhance the literature it's concealing; in fact — as proved this week by Stray Cat Theatre — it makes a lifeless mockery of it.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela