"Welcome to the Underground," Zombie Joe tells patrons as they enter his tiny storefront performance space. There, on a blank stage backed by a wall adorned with only a network of electrical outlets, this comedic tag-team appears in a series of blackout sketches dealing with "those monstrosities we refuse to acknowledge." For the next hour the audience is held captive by the bizarrely personal silliness, rather akin to watching a group of kids perform in their parents' basement in 1955. Picture Ernie Kovacs' Nairobi Trio without the gorilla masks.
Except for "Life is Hard," featuring Michelle Rueter and Flip Cassidy—whose oddly patterned facial hair and heavily kohled eyes recall Dwight Frye as Renfield—there's no discernible dialogue in the 37 quick pieces commemorating the foibles of our human condition. In "Life," acquaintances meet on a street, and Cassidy's mobile countenance slowly turns to a mask of horror as Rueter tells him what's wrong with her life. Michael Blomgren and Josh T. Ryan are exceptional throughout, but nowhere more than in "What Are You Eating?" in which Blomgren elaborately masticates on a huge invisible sandwich while Ryan looks on in disbelief. As the sketch goes on and on, it becomes more hilarious, as though they're performing a silent routine by Abbott and Costello. And, not one to avoid excess, director Joe brings them back three blackouts later, standing in the exact same position for a little number titled "Throwing Up." Tracie Cisneros is best as a beast vocally eager to devour Ryan as his body is covered with imaginary condiments, and Denise Devin, less comfortable making an ass of herself than are her cohorts, excels when she can use her dancer's body to express herself.
At a time in which all our heads are swirling with news of Edward Albee and obits of Arthur Miller, it's nice to be totally entertained in a most primordial yet creative way. The throughline for the work of Zombie Joe is unearthly minimalism coupled with outrageous situations, performed by actors who completely trust his signature vision.
"Pink Elephant," presented by and at ZJU Theatre Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. Fri.-Sat. 8:30 p.m. (Also Sat.. 10 a.m., Feb. 26.) Feb. 25-Mar. 19. $10. (818) 202-4120.