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Imagining the next great American conflict

by Stephanie Douglass

From the July, 2015 issue

In 2AZ, Michael Brian Ogden's apocalyptic zombie drama premiering at Chelsea's Purple Rose Theatre, the undead are the least of the characters' problems.

Sure, these zombies won't hesitate to devour a person alive. With their grasping arms and mouths agape, zombies are clear about their intentions, unlike people, whose hidden motives and schemes can be just as lethal. For a group of individuals who have banded together in the outbreak's aftermath, threats range from violent rebels exploiting the lawlessness of the disaster to a diminished U.S. government pursuing catastrophic means of controlling the outbreak. In 2AZ, the rise of zombies has led to a fallen America at war with itself.

By now, you're probably thinking, "More zombies?" In recent years, they've invaded our movie theaters, TVs, and bookstores, a craze the play acknowledges in an early scene. "I dare you to name one area of pop culture not saturated by this shit," says the heroine Kelly (Lauren Knox) while being interrogated by the U.S. president, Riley (Michelle Mountain). "If one of you morons had a Netflix account, this whole thing could have been avoided." Brash and fearless, Kelly accuses the government of killing millions of Americans through its ineptitude. Her comment, though, also raises an implicit challenge for the play: how will this story distinguish itself from the current horde of zombie tales?

2AZ-which denotes the year this story takes place, or 2 years after the zombie outbreak began-borrows the horror genre's conventions: mindless zombies with an insatiable hunger and contagious bites. What's more, there are unavoidable similarities between 2AZ and the popular graphic novel and TV show The Walking Dead. In 2AZ, Kelly's group of companions includes a father and daughter, a former nurse, a renowned botanist, and two heavily armed men in camo whose mission is to shepherd the botanist to a government fortress. During their journey, the group crosses paths with Billy (David Daoust), a ruthless older man bent on using others for his

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own ends. Fans of The Walking Dead will recognize a parallel between Billy and the Governor, as well as the armed escort of a scientist with invaluable knowledge.

Despite some unoriginal features of the script, 2AZ succeeds in creating a hellish nightmare of a world in which the characters' struggle to survive is beset by zombies, other survivors, and remembered horrors of lost loved ones. The most interesting and nuanced conflicts are internal, as the characters try to balance the need for self-reliance with physical attractions and friendships. The actors portray their characters with compelling, feverish intensity against an elaborate woodland setting. Against the back wall of the stage, a large video screen shows projections of fields, starry skies, and the silhouettes of approaching zombies, lending the production a cinematic quality.

The production runs through July 26.     (end of article)

[Originally published in July, 2015.]


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