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THEATER FESTIVAL CREATED IN 50 HOURS.

Byline: Mark Kellam

What can you do in 50 hours?

At Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre Group in North Hollywood, they put together four short plays in just over two days, starting at 6:35 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 1, and hitting the stage at 8:35 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 3.

Called the 50-Hour Drive-by Theatre Festival, the event requires writers, directors, actors and technical staff to work together at break-neck speed to create an evening filled with laughter and thought-provoking material.

6:35 p.m. Thursday

The writers begin writing. Each of the writers -- Denise Devin, Jim Eshom, John Falchi and Jordan Cole, known in the theater community as Zombie Joe -- knows which actors will be in their pieces. In the past, there have usually been two to three actors in each short play. This year, Zombie Joe has increased the number to three actors in three of the pieces and four in Falchi's play, a record number for the festival.

At this meeting, the writers find out what props they will have to incorporate into their plays. This is done by lottery, and writers have the option to "trade up" if they aren't satisfied with the props they get. The theater's co-producer Jeri Batzdorff picked out the props.

Devin's required props are a box of cereal, a microphone and an oven mitt. For Eshom's piece, he has to incorporate a dog puppet, a jar of cold cream and a fly swatter. Falshi's piece must feature a bucket, a faux painting of fruit and a baby bottle. For Zombie Joe's piece, he has to use a small, red papier mache sculpture of a man, a small pair of yellow-

and-white saddle shoes and a 1937 map of the northern San Fernando Valley.

They must have their plays, usually between 12 to 15 pages, written by 5:30 p.m. the next day. At that point, the directors can sit down and start their work.

All of the writers have written for the festival previously. They all say they have no idea what they'll write until they learn about their props. Then sometimes they will start writing a piece and change gears in the middle of the night.

They praise the actors who will then bring their plays to life in a short amount of rehearsal time.

"They really step up," Devin says, to which Eshom adds, "They freak out and then they step up."

9 p.m. Friday

The directors have met in the late afternoon and they are now working with the actors on memorizing the short plays. There's a lot of mental cramming, tackling the pieces one page at a time. Each cast rehearses simultaneously -- two casts at the theatre, the other two at another location.

In the theater lobby, director Jason Bold is working with his four actors in Falchi's new play Magically Delicious. It tells of a man, played by Matthew Sklar, who wakes up, realizes he's died and tries to enter a magical place called Leprechaunia. If he doesn't pass the test, he'll end up in the dreaded Abyss. In a non-traditional use of one of his props, Falchi incorporates the baby bottle as an injector for truth serum.

On stage, director Alison Cardoso is working with her three actors in Eshom's surreal piece 80s Cheese. It's about a puppeteer and his puppet. They encounter a man and woman who are fighting. The play has a deeper meaning, looking at two countries at war and breaking down who we think god is and who really is in control.

In addition to memorizing the piece, the actors in 80s Cheese -- Greg Kaczynski, Maria Olsen and Charles DeQuepin -- face the additional challenge of figuring out who is talking to whom. When do they talk to the puppet? When do they talk to the puppeteer? When do the man and woman accuse each other directly or indirectly?

With Cardoso's calm direction, the cast begins unraveling the complicated subtext.

The other two plays also have deep subtext. Devin's piece, titled Choices and Lies, looks at two brothers (Billy Minogue and Jackson Baker), the woman married to one of them (Jana Wimer) and the lies which have separated them for years and will continue to divide them in the future.

Zombie Joe's short play, Only Ever One, is about a woman who abuses a gift she possesses -- the ability to channel lost loved ones for others. It features two of the most emotionally demanding roles in the festival. Jenna Leigh Harris plays the woman with a gift whose mental stability has been thrown out of balance and Zoe Pietrycha portrays her sister who tries to protect her, even if it means locking her away. Mark Hein also gives an emotionally charged performance as the latest man to seek out the young woman's gift.

5 p.m. Saturday

The technical elements start coming together. The light and music cues are set. The actors rehearse in their costumes for the first time. In Magically Delicious, for example, Matt DeNoto and Jonica Patella have donned bowler hats and green jackets as the happy leprechauns and Ana Rey wears a pair of ears in the shape of flames as the "vice president" of the Abyss.

Also, a performance artist -- knife-and-fire juggler Brian "Skull" O'Connor -- is included into the mix. He opens the show, performs between the second and third pieces and closes the evening.

The actors, directors and technical staff run through all the pieces one time only and then ...

8:35 p.m. Saturday

Lights come up on four new plays. Any jitters fade away as the actors perform the pieces seamlessly -- no apparent line or cue mistakes. Another 50-Hour Drive-by Theatre Festival is a success at Zombie Joe's. Once the first performance is over, there's a little time for the actors to catch their breath before they perform the pieces again on Sunday and Monday evenings. Whew!

CAPTION(S):

2 photos

Photo:

(1) Greg Kaczynski, left, and Maria Olsen rehearse the surrealistic 80s Cheese.

(2) The writers, from left, Jordan Cole (known as Zombie Joe), Jim Eshom, John Falchi and Denise Devin start writing four short plays.

Mark Kellam valleynews.com
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 8, 2007
Words:1031
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