SPINE: ‘Zombie: The American’ — the Citizen, the Government Official, the Theatre-goer — at Woolly Mammoth (Review)

“Only dead men tell the truth,” said Mark Twain.

And Zombies.

Robert O’Hara’s Zombie: The American opened last night at Woolly Mammoth and, save for one errant scene–saved perhaps for a love of sex toys–its savage, funny satire on American Imperial violence is spot-on blasphemous about America’s number one theocracy: its mythological, nationalistic past, present, and future.

Sarah Marshall, Jessica Frances Dukes, Tim Getman, and Thomas Keegan. Photo by Stan Barouh.
Sarah Marshall, Jessica Frances Dukes, Tim Getman, and Thomas Keegan. Photo by Stan Barouh.

For style and political bite, think Dr. Strangelove for Millennials.

Twain’s “dead men tell the truth,” spoken to his publisher about his “War Prayer” (his scathing critique of America’s Imperialistic warmongering), led to the delayed publication of the “Prayer” until 20 years after Twain’s death.

Twain understood the early 1900’s and the consequences of critiquing God, or Manifest Destiny; so he divorced his comedy from his politics.

The 21st Century O’Hara has no such worries (at least in these early years); so he weds his comedy to his politics; and its a grand wedding, say between a saliva drooling Queen of the Zombies and America’s first openly gay President.

Yes, it is a political marriage, that some might say is made in hell, while others say: it’s Made in America.

O’Hara’s premise is as blasphemous as his storyline, and it has nothing to do with its gay President, played with genuine pathos by Sean Meehan.

In 2015, with gay dominos falling daily, a gay President is old news, particularly if we have to wait until 2063.

No, what’s blasphemous is that America is no longer the Big Dick on the world stage.

In fact, the biggest dick doesn’t even have a dick. It’s Secretary General of United African Nations Abidemi, played with wonderful aplumb by Ursula Dawn. You see, by 2063 the African nations have united to form the single greatest “force for good” in the world; so they’ve sent peace-keepers to the violent American West to help calm the natives.

What’s happened to America? Climate change has washed away its eastern seaboard (remember, it’s satire, not science), and England had to bail us out; and we had to move the capital to drier land at Mount Rushmore, where clones, i.e., government workers, are manufactured.

Unfortunately, conspiracies are afoot, and one of those clones assassinates Abidemi–don’t worry, she’ll come back as a pale green semblance of herself (Dawn also plays Abidemi’s twin sister Babirye).

In other words, in Robert O’Hara’s vision of America, an American Century this ain’t.

And that’s the bold audacity of Zombies: as social oppressions tumble like dominos all across the frontier, the one secret weapon that lies behind America’s greatness remains carefully concealed in the closet (or in basement all across the nation).

A Zombie Heart lies at the bloody core of the American Dream.

This Woolly production of Zombie: The American is a testimony to how far the theatrical arts have come in Washington over the last 30 years.

Beyond Meehan’s Lord President and Dawn’s “exotic” Abidemi, the whole Woolly ensemble is superb, led by the brilliantly present Sarah Marshall as Lady Secretary of State, Jessica Bloom.

Her chief nemesis is the First Gentleman, Chase Valentine, played with oddly heartfelt connivance by James Seol.

Then we have Jessica Frances Dukes as the no-nonsense Chief Justice and as the ghoulishly lovely Zombie Chairwoman, i.e., Queen, as well as Tim Getman as the once-headed Governor Lloyd and as blood drippingly gaunt Zombie Speaker of Zombies, Thomas Keegan as the treacherous Secretary of Defense General Alexander and as the repulsively good looking Zombie Minoritywhip, and Luigi Sottile as the perfectly cloned Royal Guard, Royal Butler, Royal Chief of Staff.

The cast of Zombies is only, however, half the story. Woolly has pulled out all the stops on this production’s scenography and the result of awe-inspiring.

Costume Designer Ivania Stack has created an truly 2063 world of fashion gone-berserk. You will find yourself gawking at the splendor. Her costume for Babirye still has my jaw hanging at my feet.

And Set Designer Misha Kachman (with Lighting Designer Colin K. Bills) has so completely transformed Woolly’s theatrical space into an oval throne room with accompanying halo platforms and catwalks that by the end of the show you will have totally forgotten the safety of 2015 and become the ghastly zombie of 2063.

And I have to mention Video Designer Aaron Fisher’s agit prop contribution  during the truth-telling climax of Zombie. His precise, flashing cinematographic diatribe pulls the carpet from under the story with such brilliance that, polemics aside, you’ll sing its praises.

One gets the sense with this production, directed with love and skill by Woolly Artistic Director Howard Shalwitz, that Zombie: The America is the script that Woolly has always wanted to produce.

Sarah Marshall and Sean Meehan. Photo by Stan Barouh.
Sarah Marshall and Sean Meehan. Photo by Stan Barouh.

Since its founding during the Reagan years, when ketchup was a vegetable and the invasion of Grenada was a cure for the Vietnam Syndrome, Woolly Mammoth has had its own basement dwellers: not Zombies, but political agitators. And sure, they have produced some edgy stuff over the years.

But with Zombie: The American they are officially out of the closet. The Exceptional American is little more than a Zombie in a Suit and the entrails you see swinging pendulum-like from his mouth used to be your next door neighbor.

So hold on for dear life, and always watch your backside. Who gets fucked next, might be you know who.

Running Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes with intermission

ZOMBIE-Standard-Display-Ads-728x90_CONT_3Zombie: The American plays through June 21, 2015, at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company – 641 D Street NW, in Washington, D.C. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 393-3939, or purchase them online.

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1553.gif

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Robert Michael Oliver
Robert Michael Oliver, Ph.D., considers himself a Creativist. He has been involved in education and the performing arts in the Washington area since the 1980s. He, along with his wife, Elizabeth Bruce, and Jill Navarre, co-founded The Sanctuary Theatre in 1983. Since those fierce days in Columbia Heights, he has earned his doctorate in theater and performance studies from the University of Maryland, raised two wonderful children, and seen more theater over the five years he worked as a reviewer than he saw in the previous 30. He now co-directs the Sanctuary's Performing Knowledge Project. He has his first book of poetry, The Dark Diary: in 27 refracted moments, due for publication by Finishing Line Press later this year.


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