Zombie Apocalypse at the Fringe!
They may have plopped a James Bond theme onto this year’s Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival – running Aug. 15-25 – but given the number of plays about zombies or death or the End of the World or all of the above, we’re sensing a theme here. Such a vast gathering of theatrical doom and gloom has to be more than coincidence. It must be the theatrical manifestation of humanity’s worst fears come to life. In short, we’re fucked.
“We didn’t plan it this way. It just happened,” says Fringe program director Murray Utas on all the zombie plays this year. “Maybe we’re heading into a place where a lot of people are thinking about this stuff, and this may be leading us into place where we question how we feel for one another. Can we survive? Where is our compassion now? Maybe our artists are commenting on that, too.”
Zombies keep showing up at Fringe festivals for the same reason they’re big in pop culture. It’s a thing. Like vampires. World War Z is just the latest in a spate of mainstream zombie flicks and zombie TV shows and even something called the “Edmonton zombie wall” (not quite sure what this is supposed to be), but there’s more to it than that.
There were at least two zombie productions showcased at Tuesday’s media launch, plus one actor – a schoolteacher telling a true story of his experiences in South Central Los Angeles in “They Call Me Mr. Fry” – who joked about his play having zombie content. For real, we have three overtly zombie plays this year – and three is enough to declare a trend. There is “An Apocalypse Survival Guide: Undead or Alive,” which will feature an audience participation game of “zombie tag.” Everyone loves audience participation at the Fringe, right? And musicals, too! “Brains, the Zombie Musical” should be a big hit. Third is “Apocalypse Saskatchewan,” whose one-minute snip at the media launch revealed what seems to be a Corner Gas-like take on the old zombie genre.
Apocalypse can come from perils other than zombies. “The Last Show You’ll Ever See” is about a trombone concert interrupted by an unspecified and possibly merciful global catastrophe. “Apocalypse Clown” kind of explains itself. “Mac Attack” – by a troupe from Fort McMurray – deals with a conspiracy nut who merely thinks the end of the world is coming. We’re not going to count “Apocalypse Kow,” a local troupe which bills itself as “a cappella ninjas,” which could make you wish for the Rapture. Just kidding. Everyone at the Fringe loves comedy a cappella. That these are all light comedies suggests that humanity has become pretty blithe about the whole End of the Earth thing. The exception is “Feast,” serious drama about a doomsday cult whose conflict comes when the world DOESN’T end.
There are more than a dozen plays whose main theme is death. Sure, stop whatever has replaced presses, because death remains as rich a muse as love. Still, this Fringe feels a bit more morbid than usual.
“Suicide(s) in Vegas” is a dark comedy where instead of sex, the protagonists are chasing death. “Life After Breath” sees a pair of female clowns clowning around in the afterlife. “Grim and Fischer” (right) is a flat-out brilliant mime-mask piece about an old woman’s encounter with Death. “Into Oblivion” needs no explanation. Need we go on? Even innocuous titles like “2 Across,” a play about a crossword puzzle, are draped in dark metaphor. The blurb reads, “There are people who finish the crossword and people who don’t.” And, by the way, “Death is Bullshit: The Pursuit of Pavement” is a comedy. Most of these are comedies.
Is there life after death? Plenty of material here, too. Martin Dockery returns with a show called “Bursting Into Flames,” a “tale of one man’s tenuous grasp on reality during an eternity of paradise in heaven.” Storyteller Erik de Waal aims to scare us silly with tales of “ghosts, ghouls, werewolves, vampires, sirens and succubi.” What, no zombies? There’s your life after death.
We turn to a higher power in times like these. God pops up in a number of Fringe plays this year, including “God on God” – a comedy imagining the Almighty as a bearded hipster with His bearded hipster Son. “God is a Scottish Drag Queen” (right) might be worth seeing for its title alone. And a plucky local troupe is mounting a Bible camp parody called “Excuse Me: This is the Truth” that could be a good Christian-bashing romp. We sure love bashing Christians at the Fringe, don’t we?
There doesn’t seem to be many actual plays about spies to fit this year’s “From Fringe With Love” theme. Maybe “Ruby Rocket, Private Eye,” an “intoxicating intoxicated private dick who always gets her man.” Fringe themes are fun to play with, but generally have little to do with the content therein. The real themes come randomly, by accident – or do they? Ask the zombies.