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July 19-25, 2006

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'The PornoZombies'

Wanted: Dead or Undead: Detective Karla (Evangeline Maynard) and assistant Sherman (Brian Murphy) fight the zombie plague in Renegade Theatre Experiment's 'PornoZombies.'

Stiffed

Renegade Theatre Experiment delivers hot cadaver action in 'PornoZombies'

By Marianne Messina


THROUGHOUT Renegade Theatre Experiment's production of The PornoZombies, narrator Peter Canavese, looking very Edward R. Murrow in his black suit, thin tie, slicked-back hair and wide-mouthed enunciation, promises a climactic scene that "may mark the end of your innocence." And with that hope, we follow "Detective Karla of the United States of America" (Evangeline Maynard) as she tracks down the nefarious producer of hot cadaver action, Dr. Hadfield (Michael Jerome West).

Humor is rife early on as Bob (Jeff Moran) buys porno in hopes of turning his wife, Alice (Molly Gazay), into a love bunny and as people of upstanding persuasion mull awkwardly around the family videos at their local porn purveyor's, working up the nerve to ask for the good stuff (through a door strung with pink, Mardi Gras-style beads). Everything from Shakespeare to early film to present-day pop culture turns up in this loosely woven political satire told as a moralistic public-service message, a la Reefer Madness. In fact, this play is a field day of "spot that reference." With irreverent anachronism, eras signify moral codes as the repressed '50s merge with the instant-orgy hippie generation.

Yet this new and sometimes wobbly-legged play by Matt Casarino dries up in the middle. Overzealous political pot shots clutter the humor until the turbid courtroom scene that ends Act 1, in which moral fiber meets freedom of speech—"Extra! Extra!" The second act rallies, especially when the narrator announces the climactic scene with "You've earned it." Because we have. Both the porno and the zombies are a long time coming (har, har)—expect double-entendres throughout, big guns and manhole covers, etc.

Most of the "porno" is narrated by porno viewers watching TVs turned backside out (although the boing-chica-boing-boing music composed by Derek Batoyan is unmistakable). And the zombies are mostly saving themselves for the final melee—which is actually worth the wait. In it, Detective Karla (Evangeline Maynard) gets her man (yes, in every way); we get a sort of zombie pole dance (without the poles, so to speak); and there's plenty of killing and rekilling to appease the mantra of Karla and her repressed gang: "Kill, not sex!"

Maynard's Bogart-style gumshoe is perhaps too charming for the moronic ("I don't even know how to work the microwave without starting a fire"), right-wing (she prefers flags to flowers and expects every good American to carry a gun) Karla. Somewhere in her erratic story line, she morphs from our somewhat repressed hero into a George Bush caricature. Towering stiffly (oops), West makes an imposing and ghoulish Dr. Hadfield, and Canavese's dapper narrator is well-composed (ahem) no matter how ludicrous the circumstances.

With a name like PornoZombies, the play could have included some recognition of how the legislation 2257 requirements have changed the face of the porn industry and how court cases such as Barbara Nitke v. Ashcroft have sent individual website owners into a panic. And on a salacious note (I mean, for artistic edification), some scenes depicting porn production could have wrung fascinating, if squirmy, humor from the idea of using zombies to get around legal consent issues. Still, the PornoZombies' fun splashes of bold humor offer a good pep rally for anyone feeling stifled by moralizers. And for the sexually squeamish, fear not; the nudity in this production is handled, well, in a way the Fox network would be proud of.


The PornoZombies, a Renegade Theatre production, plays Thursday-Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2pm through July 29 at the Historic Hoover Theater, 1635 Park Ave., San Jose. Tickets are $18/$20. (408.351.4440).


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