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Zombie Joe Brings Back The Perverse, Sinister & Hilarious Show 'Urban Death'

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We've had occasion before to marvel over the unique "Urban Death" theatrical enterprise that inhabits Zombie Joe's Underground in North Hollywood for a couple months every winter. And the latest installment in this ongoing series is another doozie.

Each year, ZJU puts together a one-hour spectacle (though this one clocks in even a bit shorter) featuring a few dozen wordless scenes of torture, perversion, sinister supernaturalism and the like and calls the whole thing "Urban Death." The company's home venue is a tiny black box theater, and the performance area for this show is made even smaller than usual by the addition of one or two extra rows of seats. As always, though, the resident production ensemble demonstrate a virtuosic mastery of their environment, and these few square feet of playing space are a more than ample staging ground for a true parade of horrors.

If the current edition of "Urban Death" is less consistently scary than we've seen in the past, it's also funnier, grosser and more consciously theatrical. Plus, there's a lot more sex. Still, as the bodily fluids flow, French kisses go horribly awry, dismembered body parts turn up at the darnedest times, and all manner of human and inhuman monsters strut and fret their seconds on the stage, neither the laughs nor the gasps ever come cheap.

One of the hallmarks of the "Urban Death" experience is the absolute darkness that envelops the theater in the blackouts between scenes, a darkness that sometimes provides a brief respite from the onslaught of shocking images even as it also generates an anticipatory uneasiness all its own. We're never sure if we should want the lights to come back up or not.

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Zombie Joe's Underground often draws a kind of atypically eclectic and energetic audience to its shows which many other theater companies in town wish they could attract, and the opening night performance for this year's "Urban Death" phantasmagoria was sold out way in advance. (They even had to turn away a prominent local theater critic who showed up without a reservation.) The 11 o'clock start time adds a bit of a charge to the proceedings, too, and those who did make it in last Saturday were virtually howling in anticipation as the entrance door to the performance space slid shut, the lights went down, and the opening music got gradually louder.

There's nothing else in town quite like it. Really, there's nothing else anywhere quite like it.

Zombie Joe's 2013 "Urban Death" plays Saturday nights at 11 p.m. through April 27. $15 tickets can be reserved by phone at (818) 202-4120.