West Destiny – Zombie Joe’s Underground Theater

West Destiny is the first “straightforward”, scripted show I’ve seen at Zombie Joe’s Underground Theater, and I have to say I really enjoyed it! It was fun, campy, short and sweet, and of course had a rousing sense of the macabre. The Western, written by David Dickens and directed by Brandon Slezak, has a cast of 13 (some playing multiple parts) and includes stage fights, gun shootin’, burlesque dancin’ and foul language hollerin’ – all of which makes for quite an energetic night of theater.

A new couple to the town of West Destiny, the Brittles find themselves at a crossroads when tragedy strikes early on. Rebecca Brittles, a proper lady lost in a town of miscreants, must then go on a quest to find herself and her place in the world, letting a sense of vengeance lead the way. The town is full of colorful characters: a dominant female mayor with a gimp-like assistant; a whorehouse-loving sheriff and a somewhat incompetent deputy; a cracked-out doctor and her unfortunate study subject; and two sinister bad guys that you want to stay away from. Helping innocent Rebecca on her journey to revenge is Mr. Primo, a farm owner with a sordid past. All these characters collide in interesting ways and an epic finale.

There’s something to be said about the ZJ company and their use of the space. They always amaze me with how much they can transform their black-box theater into more than you’d expect. The theater sat about 60 people, with some chairs on stage. The simple decorations of rope and flower arrangements gave a sense of atmosphere, without being too abrasive. The only thing I’d suggest here, is that when one of the bouquets fell, the actors could have incorporated it into the scene, or discreetly moved it to the side. As it was, the actors had to continually step over or on it for the remainder of the play. The country music before the show set the mood, and was sustained throughout the production – there was even an original song that was sung by one of the performers. Several of the costumes were also fancy and indicative of the setting. And it wouldn’t be a ZJ production without a little blood and murder!

The cast was solid, some shining more than others – I adored Jetta Juriansz’s dopey Deputy Swoon (her facial expressions stole every one of her scenes) and Sammy Listoe’s Mr. Primo (he was the most natural, lived-in character on stage). One or two were a bit over-the-top for me, but I think the campy and the serious were blended quite well, often shifting between scenes, which moved along quickly and smoothly. The actors were on top of it!  

I’m no stranger to black-box, bare-bones theater, and I thought this was definitely one of the better performances I’ve seen. It was a wild little show and made the absolute best of its space and ensemble. I honestly hope Zombie Joe’s does more productions like this in the future. Great job!

West Destiny runs Fridays & Saturdays @ 8:30pm through August 26th.
Call for Reservations: 818-202-4120
zombiejoes.com
Tickets: $15

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