Zombie Soap Opera

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This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Okay, so last week it was Judas on trial. This week it's a second chance for Eve. LA theater is on a biblically inspired redemption tour.

In the playwright's note for Susan Rubin's new play eve2 at the Bootleg Theater, she poses the question, "what would happen if Eve got a second bite [of the] apple?"

As compelling as that question is, the play she's written isn't nearly as focused.

We begin in some back hallway of Bellevue Hospital. Two orderlies in scrubs are on break: Adam and Eve. Adam begins the play by reciting (or is it rehearsing?) lines from Romeo and Juliet. Adam must be an actor, though that's never really explained. Eve just wants to get busy and find someplace that the rest of their break can become a little more carnal.

Suddenly, the fire alarm goes off with a warning to evacuate the building. Do they? Of course not. They head for . . . wait for it . . . the morgue.

This set up could be campy in a B horror movie sort of way but instead it's played straight ahead and deadly earnest. It's only moments before we're surrounded by the recently undead and a sort of vague general threat to humanity.

Interspersed with this zombie soap opera are moments of philosophical meditation on the plight of Eve, the curse visited upon mankind, and the nature of temptation. Think a less intellectually rigorous version of George Bernard Shaw's Don Juan in Hell with the inquiring woman standing in for the uber-man.

What's keeping the whole piece from jelling in a compelling way is that the worlds, and more specifically the threats, don't have a consistent logic. You can feel it in the awkwardness of the acting and directing as the actors seem to be almost waiting. Like when a corpse comes back to life: visually it's striking and frankly a little startling but then you can't help but notice that our protagonists are just standing there . . . well, waiting. It's more like they're pausing for the playwright's idea to come to life rather than for a world to unfold. It's what makes horror such a tricky task in the theater. In film, we'd have full frame terror. In theater, the audience's experience isn't quite as bounded by the edges of the screen.

And it's not that this piece doesn't use space well. That's actually its strongest suit.

Set designer Alan Muraoka has spun the theater so the audience is sitting around three sides of the stage. With a bit of industrial shelving, he floats a slim grated catwalk over the old seats. Aided by copious amounts of fog, lighting designer Brandon Baruch casts shafts of eerie light that give the piece a suitably haunted feel. Together they provide a logic for the shifts between playwright Susan Rubin's worlds.

A decade ago, the Bootleg Theater -- then the Evidence Room -- housed some of the most exciting theater in LA. Maybe slowly, between music gigs, this space is finally finding its way back.

eve2 plays at the Bootleg Theater through September 8.

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Running time: 75 minutes without an intermission

Banner image; Lizzie Peet, Rebecca Rivera, Hunter Seagroves and Nicholas Cutro in eve2. Photo: CK