Theater review: The zombies are in your garage

In 'The Revenants' the zombies are familiar and they are very close...

After a great deal of research into medieval English texts (*cough Wikipedia), I have determined that Molly and Joseph aren’t really zombies. Sure, they look and act like zombies, with the moaning and the grabbing and mad desire to feed on human flesh, but no, they are actually revenants.

For proof, I have all that research I did (*cough not-very-much) AND the title of the play in which they appear: “The Revenants” by Scott T. Barsotti, which The Reformers theater company is enacting in an actual garage in the Buckman neighborhood.

Chris Murray and Christy Bigelow fight the zombies within in "The Revenants"/Bill Berk

Chris Murray and Christy Bigelow fight the zombies within in “The Revenants”/Bill Berk

We all know about zombies. Well, maybe we don’t really, because the history of zombies is actually pretty complex and deeply entangled inside cultures about which we know very little. But right, Hollywood Zombies! The Undead! Who limp around small towns in large packs, mostly, wearing ragged clothes and dire expressions in search of live humans to kill. They are lifeless and soulless and not very reasonable.

The most important point here, though, is that you wouldn’t recognize your Aunt Peach among the zombie horde, even though you might have suspected she was a secret zombie for a long time. Zombies are the Anonymous Other. I think they are popular because we don’t want to think about our enemies as actual people, you know, with families and kids and personal histories. You can’t negotiate with zombies or exchange pictures of your loved ones back home. All you can do is…kill!

Molly and Joseph (remember them?) aren’t the Anonymous Other. Molly was the difficult wife of Gary before she became a revenant; Joseph was the husband of Karen and the best friend of Gary. Revenants are “returners,” not enlistees in the Dark Army of the Dead. They haunt people they know, which I know, sounds like a ghost. Think of them as combo ghost zombies? Because their haunting also involves the desire to feed, which I know, sounds like a vampire. But we’re not going to get into the variants of this particular strand of human imagination.

Somehow, as “The Revenants” begins, Gary (Chris Murray) and Karen (Christy Bigelow) have managed to manacle Molly (Jennifer Elkington) and Joseph (Sean Doran) in a garage. Gary and Karen are stuck there with them, because the whole town is full of zombies, er, revenants, and they need to keep a low profile, slipping off to the grocery for Pop Tarts and bourbon when the getting’s good.

Zombie v. Man: Sean Doran and Chris Murray in "The Revenants"/Bill Berk

Zombie v. Man: Sean Doran and Chris Murray in “The Revenants”/Bill Berk

So, why are Molly and Joseph chained to shelving units in the garage? I think it is to lead Karen and Gary through a consideration of their marriages and their childhoods, and maybe to rekindle an old romance. And truly, Karen and Gary couldn’t bring themselves to kill their old mates. Maybe they’d get better with time! Why not just chain them and watch them drool, howl and take swipes at the humans? In a tiny garage. Surrounded by zombies.

“The Revenants” could have been a comedy: Like, say, “I Married a Zombie.” But Barsotti plays it straight, for the screams, and this production of “The Revenants” gets some gasps, at least, mostly because Elkington and Doran, who have the unenviable chore of acting “zombie” for 90 minutes, are pretty scary.

Now, I’d hazard that most of us wouldn’t stay attached to our Significant Other if (s)he became one of the Undead. In fact, American divorce statistics being what they are, it’s pretty clear that we cut the tie that binds for significantly less cause than that. But somehow, Murray and Bigelow make their course seem like a fairly rational one. Maybe Murray is a little too nonchalant about it all, in the American Hero style? Shouldn’t he be a little more scared and depressed about it all? And maybe there’s a way to convey Karen’s continuing allegiance to Joseph, even when some doubts about how good a husband he really was start to emerge?

But that’s a script problem, mostly. So’s the trunk, but we won’t get into that. Instead, let’s leave with the zombies rattling around outside while you’re stuck inside with a couples therapy session that has broken bad, about as bad as it gets.

Happy Halloween!

Read more by Barry Johnson.

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