‘Excuse Me’ at Zemfira Stage

Excuse Me is a high-energy, subversive, conspiracy theory-infused, paranoid, mash-up zombie comedy. It is madcap built upon zinger lines such as “don’t make any rational moves.” But, hidden away within, when its over-the-top lunacy slows for a nano-second, are moments when serious issues poke out with a wave of a hand.

This Zemfira Stage production is an experimental work about corporate greed and impending doom. There are plenty of weirded-out, often cynical characters and then there are zombies. Yup zombies. Excuse Me is like a contemporary graphic novel with the last page similar to the end scene in the original black and white movie Invasion of the Body Snatcher when Kevin McCarthy cries out that “they” are coming; and nobody listens. Well add that it is also built upon the Night of the Living Dead movie franchise as zombies begin to appear and seem quite unstoppable. Ok, add-in X Files paranoia running deep with a smidge of Leslie Nielson’s “Shirley” one-liners.

The cast of  Photo courtesy of Zemfira Stage.
The cast of ‘Excuse Me.’ Photo courtesy of Zemfira Stage.

The zombie comedy takes place begins in a small fictional North Carolina town. The wait staff at the “Super Awesome Diner” begin selling a new drink distributed by a huge corporation, the Blind Corporation. Soon enough the audience comes to discover that they are witnesses to “a zombie apocalypse” based on the consequences of the Blind Corporation greed and desire to deny wrong-doing. Over a number two act and many scenes, the audiences learns more and more about a concocted world of corporate self-indulgence which leads to the rise of zombies and the demise of; well, I won’t give that away.

Rodrigo G. Pool Arce is producer, writer, and director, and also has many technical hats including set design, sound design and mixing, costume design, animation, video and graphic design. He also composed and performed the original music. An earlier production of Excuse Me was presented by Northern Virginia’s Zemfira Stage at the 2013 NVTA One Act Festival The show also has roots in the Web-based video world.

The 16-member ensemble cast is totally into it. A number are double-cast. While the overall acting process may be uneven, the actors deliver their lines with straight faces representing their broadly-drawn comic characters. A number have arch accents that represent New York City, England, Jamaica, and Appalachia to name a few. Several actors who pop out for the manner they present their characters include Katy Chmura, Peter Ponzini, Stella Sklar, and Devyn Tinker.

The set is the entire James Lee Community Center theater as the aisle are used and various exits doors too. Props and set pieces are moved about by the actors fairly efficiently. The lighting is fun with a number of blackouts and the start of Act II using colorful flashlights like kids at summer camp after the lights go out. The projected animation and graphics are a skilled touch as the float about the stage giving additional life. Costumes give off each character’s joyful craziness. It’s a kind of cos-play and a video game in its own way.

The production grew on me for its striving ambition. But, it determined ambition got in its way as if there was no one to reign in some of its over-extended inventiveness. There is cutting work to be done before considering recommending Excuse Me beyond to those who readily “drink the Kool-Aid,” well make that the “Hawk Juice,” peddled by the Blind Corporation, or who readily enjoy theatrical lunacy with a group of like-minded friends along with plenty of adult words bandied about.

For instance, Excuse Me’s several less-than-central story lines including many about love and sex. In one line love is described as a “war game” to be won, while the other provided a more unselfish view of love. Both delightful in their own ways, but they were packed in to what is essentially a show about corporate greed and zombies.

Excuse Me  is an unhinged production with plenty of social commentary and great ambition. While the show needs some judicious pruning and some limits to the clutter of some storylines, I came away admiring the reach of Rodrigo G. Pool Arce who described Excuse Me as “a self-endogen, fan-boy, comedy. He asks the audience “to leave outside the theater doors that silly world or reality you currently live.” I also came away with high esteem for Zemfira Stage and its artistic director, Zina Bleck for being an incubator for something new and completely different.

Running Time: One hour and forty five minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.

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Excuse Me plays through February 1, 2015 at Zemfira Stage performing at the James Lee Community Center Theater – 2855 Annandale Road, in Falls Church VA. For tickets, call (703) 615-6626, and leave a reservation, or purchase them at the door.

RATING: THREE-AND-A-HALF-STARS1.gif