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at ZJU Theatre Group

Maria Olsen's avant-garde sojourn into the psyche of serial killers is hit-and-miss, alternating between striking originality and college-level theatricality. The work is a series of pastiches: small skits that dramatize the torment of the killers' inner worlds compared to the external events of their lives. The scenes vary from offbeat Ballets Russes to hard-edged and violent emotionality. The actors are adorned with painted faces—often a bad sign in theatre—but manage to develop their characters beyond the masks.

Olsen, who also directed the piece, is at her best when she is using sound and movement to convey tone. Whispered names, juxtaposed to stilted choreography, all gestures and grunts, begin to convey the craziness of the murderers' minds.

The script is incomplete and often confusing. We never fully get to know anyone, but we come to feel as if we inhabit a world that is terrifying and claustrophobic. There is no story or message here, yet one is left with a feeling of darkness and despair—probably the intent of the playwright.

The cast is offbeat and energetic, and the performances feel original. Avi Tanners is demonic in various killer guises and most effective in a scene in which he recites a series of words as he prances around the stage. Jonica Patella is elfin and evil throughout, and Sarah Grace and Stephanie Mittel are beautiful yet maniacal in their performances. Mark Hein is solidly dark, also delicious in a pre-play appearance as a clown.

Despite a somewhat jumbled script, the adventurous tone of the piece at Zombie Joe's marvelous funhouse is intriguing.

Presented by and at ZJU Theatre Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. Fri.-Sat. 8:30 p.m. Jun. 15-Jul. 7. (818) 202-4120.

Reviewed by Hoyt Hilsman

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