Bitten! A Zombie Rock Odyssey
As a play, 'Bitten! A Zombie Rock Odyssey' is impressively bad, but it's got one hell of a soundtrack
Reviewed by Hannah Kenah, Fri., Oct. 6, 2006
Bitten! A Zombie Rock Odyssey
Dougherty Arts Center, through Oct. 14; Arts on Real, Nov. 2-8
Running time: 2 hrs, 30 min
This show is impressively bad, but it's got one hell of a soundtrack.
Several days after seeing Bitten!, an original rock musical written by the Unbearables (a band) and produced in conjunction with Loaded Gun Theory (a theatre company), I am still singing the songs. Still chuckling over some of the ideas. Though ridiculously simplistic, they were excellent fodder for the stage. A zombie lover sings to his girl, "Though I am now undead, my feelings are still true/When I'm not thinking about brains, I'm thinking about you." A church group, excited to see the zombies, sings, "Hip-hip-hooray/Three cheers for Judgment Day." The aliens, though I couldn't understand a word they said, were doing some funny geometric dancing.
Yes, there are aliens and zombies and religious zealots and lovers in this show. Even dinosaurs and utopia. The whole spectrum of absurd plot devices is represented. Given how inanely simple the ideas are, and how absolutely excellent the music is, this show should have rocked. It is a self-proclaimed "zombie rock odyssey." Unfortunately, the rock was impaled on a stake of incompetence, and the only odyssey was the grotesquely long half-hour intermission.
Watching a bad play is fun and funny, for about 20 minutes. Granted, you're laughing at it, not with it, but it is entertaining nonetheless. After about 20 minutes, however, you begin to hope there's no intermission (no such luck here), and by the time the show ends, fun has been replaced by a minor stomachache.
At the performance I saw, not one actor blew this material out of the water. The direction was awkward and amateurish, completely missing the theatrical and stylistic potential of the piece. The lighting design (if you can call it that no designer was listed in the information-free program, which also neglected to mention dates of the show, locations of the show, information about the creative team, or anything about the band/theatre company) left the actors in the dark. When there were lights, the actors couldn't find them. The sound design had the actors strapped to wireless microphones, yet everyone sounded like they were on mute. Less than half of the lyrics was audible. Actors forgot their lines. Lines they did remember were delivered with a painful lack of energy. The choreography would lead one to believe this musical must be in the genre of parody, but the thing with parody is that you have to be really damn good at something before you start making it bad. The bad must be on purpose. In this case, it felt like the default mode.
The backdrop was a projection screen, and the visuals and animation employed here were actually quite good. Unfortunately, the screen served the double purpose of backlighting all the missed crosses, erroneous exits, and technical confusion. At one point, an actor actually tried to hide behind another actor while attempting to fix his mic. (Another asterisk: Tyler Jones, who played head alien Xonnom, probably had the chops to pull off this material. Of course, we couldn't hear him, so I had to gather that from his body language and facial expressions.)
I would say this production is like the worst high school theatre, but one of the best performances I've ever seen was handed in at a public high school in Ohio. A scrawny 10th grader, sporting a construction-paper beard, played Tevya in Fiddler on the Roof, and despite the humility of his context, this kid had the audience on its feet. Point is, production quality is not the point. Brilliant writing or acting or directing or design can shine through anything.
In this case, the music came through. Despite its disastrous context, it forged a place for itself. With incredible actors, singers, directors, designers, and book writers, Bitten! could be the next cult classic. The Unbearables are capable of creating a stellar rock musical, but this particular production honors nothing but the band's name.