Night of the living theater

Pub date October 20, 2009
WriterRobert Avila
SectionArts & CultureSectionTheater

THEATER A small Texas ‘burb has just suffered attack by a horde of reanimated corpses, which can happen to anyone. But as luck would have it, the members of a bold experimental San Francisco theater company have taken it upon themselves to alight on the ravaged community, channel their story to the world, and thereby bestow on the good folk of Harwood "the healing that only theater can provide."

The actors of "the Catharsis Theatre Collective," dressed uniformly in black pants and tees, give or take a beret, begin by introducing themselves to the audience and explaining their modus operandi: in-depth interviews with a cross-section of the town’s population, whose personalities and stories they will then assume and relay to the audience as a living, breathing, documentary account.

We get reincarnations of the town’s mayor (Damian Lanahan), for instance, who happens also to be a car salesman, amid gradual intimations of a political cover-up and regular references to the superior craftsmanship in various makes of Toyotas. Or we hear from the proprietor of a local tavern (Ariane Owens) as she intones last call to her regulars on the night in question: "OK folks, you don’t have to go out and face the undead, but you can’t stay here." And, at steady intervals, we get the reenacted tale of three unlikely allies — an unabashed rocker dude (Ian Riley); a prissy and reluctant high school party chick (Owens); and an egotistical accountant (Drew Lanning) — holed up together through the night in an out-of-the-way cabin, where they battle an army of brain-eating creatures risen from the local cemetery (for reasons various characters are at pains to hypothesize over) while bickering ferociously among themselves.

As this familiar-sounding scenario of late-night TV and the multiplex develops, so too does another, equally familiar-sounding, meta-narrative, as we the audience get treated to the thoughts and feelings and interpersonal exchanges of the Catharsis members themselves, wrestling with the awesome responsibility of their task.

The real theatrical mavericks behind this Laramie-style "Zombie Project" are, of course, the members of Sleepwalkers Theatre, the talented young San Francisco–based company exclusively devoted to producing original plays. This gem is penned by Tim Bauer, a San Francisco playwright and former Texas resident, whose eye and ear for the culture clashes attendant not only in zombie movies but also between the humbler masses and certain rarified sections of the theater world makes Zombie Town a consistently witty treat. Sleepwalkers’ artistic director Tore Ingersoll-Thorp directs with an equally strong parodic sense a lively cast of living and post-living characters — played to perfection by an ensemble that could hardly be sharper or funnier were it to have a mining pick protruding from its collective forehead.


Through Nov. 7

Fri.–Sat., 8 p.m., $14–$20

Exit Stage Left

156 Eddy, SF