Since the zombie subset of the creature feature genre is my very favorite, I was excited indeed to see Brent Lengel’s dark and delightful (if somewhat oddly punctuated) Snow White Zombie: Apocalypse. This enjoyable production is a devilishly funny, genre-bending “kung-fu horror” show that easily could be considered among the hierarchical progeny of such sweeping cultural masterpieces as Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods, and such modern-day cult classics as the Simon Pegg-fronted rom-com-zom, Shaun of the Dead.
There is no denying the allure and grip that fairy tales have on us. Current TV listings include a bevy of beautiful and beastly-inspired fare like ABC’s Once Upon a Time and NBC’s Grimm. Both shows are inspired by the twisted Georgian literature of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen (though, admittedly, Once Upon a Time does have a distinctly Disneyfied air to it). No surprise, then, that the trend has moved to the stage, with productions of all sizes borrowing from the genre.
From the very first spoken line — an incredulous WTF from the newly shorn feminist Rapunzel — we understand that this is not a safe show for the kiddies. Rapunzel is a tough pirate-like princess rather than the pink-clad puffball we might see in a more straight-laced production, and Prince Charming has possible necrophiliac tendencies that bubble to the surface when he happens to stumble across a pretty girl in a glass coffin. No, this isn’t going to be just another light-hearted traipse through the forest.
But this isn’t really about the Prince Charmings of the world. The women in the piece are the pleasantly surprising heroes. They can be sweet and they’re certainly beautiful, but they’re also tough as nails when the pressure is on. Sure, their wills are bent by the occasional seductive stranger — tall, dark (of soul) and handsome, full of bluster and bad intent — but it’s their inner strength, built up through several years of abuse from evil stepmothers and enduring witches’ curses, that allows them to triumph when others fall off the forest path.
Playwright Brent Lengel does a fine job of calling back to the original stories and pulling out some of the lesser-known plot points for dramatic effect. When it comes to the villains, however, it’s a different story.
The Black Fairy is a bondage babe, all black patent leather bustier and bad attitude, but this time spouting ideological feminist mantras and complaining about the damsels in distress “perpetuating the hetero-normative monarchist patriarchy.” Though she’s clearly come a bit unglued over a royally offensive snub, her bumbling form of villainy does come off a bit too laissez faire — almost incidental. I like my villains dark and twisty, my evil intentional, but the Black Fairy Nix comes off a bit more like an entitled brat on a heavy flow day. She’s a loose canon rather than a conniving mastermind, though I suppose there’s something to be said for unpredictability.
The set designers clearly had their work cut out for them, making the best use of a bare-bones theater with movable curtains that double for trees and walls and creepy gingerbread cottages. The actors also double as stagehands, moving the pieces around as needed and taking their places on stage by the time the lights come up. It is a simple and elegant solution to the problem of such a small performance space as that available in the (ironically named for this production) Living Theater.
The show is funny and thoughtful, dark without being gloomy, and it certainly makes the most of what must be a very tight budget. There’s love, action, thrills, and for the other horror and sci-fi enthusiasts in the audience, there’s the secondary fun of finding the Easter Egg-like references scattered throughout. There are nods of equal weight given to the original fairy tales as to Romero and sci-fi shoot-‘em-ups like The Matrix.
I would love to see the company do what the Gorilla Rep did in the late nineties and early naughties, staging the show out of doors on some green and pleasant parkland. With luck, the producers will get an extension in the Fringe Encore Series, or simply get the funding to produce the show independently. Snow White Zombie: Apocalypse would make for the perfect night out on All Hallows Eve, when the dead wake from their slumbers and you never know what dark creatures lurk just beyond the shadows.
Snow White Zombie: Apocalypse
21 Clinton Street
Remaining Performances: 5:30 p.m. Friday, August 24, 9 a.m. Saturday, August 25
Photos by Brian Hashimoto:
1. Lucia Brizzi, Parker Leventer
2. Lucia Brizzi
3. Parker Leventer, Joshua Conner
4. Adam La Faci, Lucia Brizzi