SALT LAKE CITY — The world premiere of The Hive Theatre Company’s Steadman & Walker (Zombie LLC) is among the most unique theater experiences I’ve had this year. And is the perfect way to kick off the Halloween season. This original work by Jared Greathouse definitely falls into “theater of the absurd,” and takes place in a futuristic society where Zombies run the United States. The script is packed with social commentary and takes stabs at current political issues of the day, ranging from health care and insurance reform to environmental issues, and even takes a few punches at religion. The play takes place in three acts at the Steadman and Walker Life Insurance headquarters, which seems to be the only thriving business in the down economy and follows the journey of Bob (Spencer Belnap), Ashley (Tiffany A. Greathouse) and James (David J. Bohnet) all new employees on their first (and last) day on the job at Steadman & Walker.
The concept of the play is creative and I applaud Jared Greathouse’s originality in the writing. He created some unique characters with distinct personalities that brought variety to the scenes as these characters interacted with one another. However, the script could use some significant editing, as most of the scenes seemed to drag as little new information was revealed making topics become indulgent and slow moving. Some of the humor worked though at other times lines felt corny or that they were simply written to get a laugh but contributed little to the plot or story. I also felt that there was not a clear theme or message to take away from the play, and this made it less relevant or meaningful. This lack of theme made the play somewhat flat and disjointed as each act introduced and “terminated” new characters making it harder to follow one consistent story with a traditional structure of exposition, climax, resolution, etc. I would suggest introducing all the “humans” in the first act and better define their relationships and flesh out their backstories so that a clearer journey and potential theme could emerge. The script’s ambiguity was entertaining, but left me unsatisfied as I took nothing away from the evening other than the feeling of having just watched a B-movie horror flick. A more traditional writing format, a clearer and developed theme, and faster paced/less indulgent scenes would all improve this script.
The design element that stands out is the exceptional costuming and make-up. The audience was seated up close and the level of detail in the zombie make-up, blood and costuming was so superbly created that the visuals were incredibly believable and stunning. Coupled by each actor’s physicality and movement, I had no trouble believing that the theater was being invaded by zombies (some of which were perhaps a little too real). JC Carter, Shanna McChesney, Klika Rose, Sidney Bre Davis, and Kelly Donahue are all cited as make-up artists and deserve much praise. The sound design and choice of music also under Jared Greathouse’s direction added much to create the bizarre setting of the world of the play and eerily set the mood in each scene with his cleaver choices of both modern and classic songs and sounds.
The acting was mostly solid with stand out performances by Sam C. McGinnis V as Mike, the unorthodox Zombie HR director. McGinnis’s created a bizarre sarcastic type of zombie who could flip on a dime, from easy-going “go lucky” to full of rage ready to “bite your head off” (quite literally) at any moment. This made Mike intriguing and engaging to watch, especially in his interactions with the naïve Bob. Other standouts included JayC Stoddard as Coach, a Vietnam War “hippy type” that was on a mission to kill Steadman and Walker in his anti-establishment mission. Thanks to Stoddard’s performance, I truly believed Stoddard was crazy. Stoddard’s mannerisms, his facial expressions and reactions all supported the idea that there was something not right going on in his mind. And lastly Jeffrey Owen as Steadman and JC Carter as Walker embraced the corrupt old executives turned Zombies with a strong stage presence and believable relationship. This brought much humor to the third act as they interacted with Ashley in a politically incorrect and chauvinistic manner before devouring her.
The noticeable weak link in the cast was David J. Bohnet as James. He was difficult to watch and made Act II the weakest part of the play. For nearly 30 minutes, Bohnet played a state of being of “panicked and distraught” with little variance in his voice or character choices. Bohnet’s emoting lacked sincerity or authenticity and felt extremely repetitive especially considering he was one of only two actors that were onstage for almost all of Act II.
So now comes the part of the review where I have to make a recommendation as to whether or not this show is worth attending. On the one hand the script is creative and unique, though on the other hand it is indulgent and lacking direction. The acting and directing are generally solid, though have a few weak links. And the make-up and costumes are definitely on a professional level. Well if you are looking for top-notch writing and a polished performance, this may fall short. But if you are looking for something wholly different than anything you may have seen this year and are ready to get into the “Halloween Spirit,” then Steadman & Walker (Zombie LLC) might just hit the spot.