nytheatre.com review by Josh Sherman
August 23, 2006
"Love never dies" is a great premise for a piece like The Revenants, a tale of two survivors of a zombie pandemic. The catch is that they happen to be living in an otherwise abandoned basement with their undead spouses. Believe it or not, this is a high-concept piece that attempts on several levels to unravel the mixed emotions of love that hasn't quite gone away—with mixed artistic results.
Written by Scott T. Barsotti and directed by Cara Scarmack, The Revenants begins promisingly in mid-action as Gary (Aaron Lake) and Karen (Sarah Sirota) rush into the basement after narrowly escaping the zombie horde, where Gary's wife Molly (Kendall Rileigh) and Karen's husband Joe (Burt Brooks) are literally hanging around, being undead. Gary and Karen discuss their fate, and have differing opinions on whether or not Molly and Joe can actually still feel any emotion (Karen, rather predictably, thinks they are salvageable human beings). Karen's hunger gets the best of her, and she wants to go outside and hit up the grocery store outside. Gary, who swallows heavy helpings of Jack Daniels as a coping mechanism, won't let her go alone outside, and instead leaves her alone with their zombie spouses. Karen attempts to communicate with Molly and Joe, and Molly takes a chunk out of her arm.
Any further description of the zombie plot would be detrimental to a playgoers' enjoyment of the play, but it is important to point out that Gary has an unresolved love for Karen to make the situation even more complicated.
Unfortunately, parts of this piece simply do not work as written or directed. The zombie premise is legitimately scary, but the love story has too much of a soap-opera feel to be legitimately dramatic. The character of Gary needs to be either more charming or tougher, but a clear choice was not made. Lake and Sirota don't seem to have much chemistry between them, and since 98% of the dialogue is theirs, sections of this play drag. And since they are the living characters, it would bode well for them to be more emotionally invested in their zombie spouses and each other.
The production team has made a conscious choice to not present Molly and Joe as gory, bloody corpses, allowing the actors to portray their undeadness through physicality and lots of open-mouthed moaning. Rileigh and Brooks clearly have the most demanding roles, and execute them well. Their background moans are creepy as hell, and that's a good thing. The audience feels like they are trapped in the basement with these four characters, giving a total theatre experience that is appropriately unnerving. But there are liberties taken with the zombie characters, they don't follow all of the traditional "zombie rules": why haven't they attacked their spouses while they are in the basement, why aren't they chained up, why don't they try to escape the basement...
The Revenants works best when it grounds itself in the "reality" of the situation that Gary and Karen are in. Those sections of the play make the tension palpable for the audience. It's less effective when it tries to tell a love story between those two characters. I was much more interested in knowing more about the struggle in loving someone who "isn't there", i.e., is undead. If The Revenants had focused more on that emotional drama, instead of the thin subplot of Gary's unrequited love for Karen, the story would have been far more riveting and heartfelt.