It's as if Sid Vicious suddenly became a Trappist monk. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre Group, noted for in-your-face Artaudist theatre, is trying something new. The Journey is a kinder, gentler, decidedly introspective evening wrapped around the ecstatic poetry of Rumi, the 13th century Sufi mystic. Using a form of improvisation some call "transformational," the troupe of 10 caroms from the typical aches and pains of living in an urban culture, the pain of unrequited love, the self-loathing of suddenly understanding destructive tendencies, to reconciliation and joy. A selection of oldies, among them "Here Comes the Sun," "I Shall Be Released," and "Motherless Child," are sung to great effect by members of the ensemble, all of whom are personable performers. They represent a generational spectrum: Jim Petersmith, Michael Artura, and Denise Devin carry the most experience, while David De Leon is the hippest, and Christie Barker is gee-whiz cheerleading fresh. Robyn Rosenkrantz has a particularly effective folk quality when she sings "Tune Into Silent Music."
Most of the observations made by the group are familiar aphorisms, but many bear repeating. Here's one: "What is love? The total absence of fear. What is there to fear? Love." My particular favorite, though, is, "In the symphony of the universe, be your note."
Amid these sayings, personal stories, and group inter-creativity, time-outs for Rumi's words stand out strangely; they are spoken as if from a great distance. The whole effect is rather like the 1960s and '70s: gentle, self-revelatory, energetic, and very sincere. As a trip to the future for the Underground, this Journey is definitely a step forward into the past.
Kudos that the session never lags; it is always surprising and never overly indulgent. Best of all, the overall viewing experience makes it clear that this earnest troupe doesn't want its audience just to sit back and watch its journey. It wants the audience to do something about our own lives.