nytheatre.com review by Ed Malin
June 25, 2011
If you like zombie stories, and even if you don’t, there is much to like about AntiMatter Collective’s wild west apocalypse piece Death Valley. Originally developed as a five-part serial in Vampire Cowboys’ Saturday Night Saloon, this story adds a whole new layer of social commentary to the walking dead genre. Instead of prodding us with the question “What can we do to save our polluted, corrupt world, where the dead are coming back to teach us a lesson?” we are told “The world ended in 1880 because of what was done to the Native Americans.”
Lawrence is a well-dressed, soft-spoken guy who is traveling through the desert occasionally stealing. He is surprised when a man he meets at a camp site suddenly dies, then immediately rises and tries to eat his flesh. Lawrence kills the man for real, takes a large gold nugget from his sack, and flees. Back in town he meets Adele, a good time saloon girl who is expecting him to take them both away to a green place like California and have a family. The gold will make this possible, by the grace of God, but before they can get away the people in the saloon start dying and coming back to life. Only Lawrence, Adele, the local Doctor and another call girl Genevieve make it out to the desert alive. Lawrence is going to retrieve the gold he buried, then join them. While on their own, Adele discovers Gen has been bitten by a zombie and must be killed with kindness. They meet Kaytennae, an Apache who tells that after his people were pushed west, they prayed to be able to die. Their resulting sickness turned into the curse of the living dead. As it turns out, the whole country has already been overtaken by zombies and the news has not reached these Western folk. Lawrence returns, they are surrounded by zombies, but he, Adele, and Kaytennae are rescued by an army unit on a train. Many reversals follow. Lawrence talks about God a lot but only to further his ends. The army officer is prone to take his word over that of a “Redskin,” but then again he is more swayed by a pretty woman.
This story is a refreshing spin on both zombie flicks and westerns. The cast and crew put their heart into it…at least someone’s heart sprayed blood all over the people in the front row, which was greeted with applause. Bevan Dunbar and Karen Boyer are costume geniuses; the actors keep exiting and re-entering in more torn-up versions of their outfits. Alexandra Hellquist and Stephanie Cox-Williams have done a hell of a job on makeup and gore, respectively. Adam Scott Mazer’s script acknowledges recent westerns like the remake of True Grit, and tackles not only the sexism but the racism: the U.S government only succeeded in reducing Native Americans to second class citizens because they were moved so far away, while in this show the hypocrisy is right in your face. Director Dan Rogers has picked by far the worst, truest, and most entertaining traits for this period piece. In the cast, Will Cespedes (Lawrence) is an admirably good liar. Alexandra Panzer (Adele) shows us what a call girl can accomplish if she never gives up. Casey Robinson (Kaytennae) is incredibly dignified; after all, he is in his element unlike the frightened Caucasians. James Rutherford (Doc) is hilarious as he drinks right before performing an operation.