Dead? Would you like to be?
To stage its latest Fringe Festival production, “Zombies…with Guns,” Tribe of Fools approached various Philebrities to perform walk-on roles as the animated dead. They asked luminaries from Democratic mayoral nominee Jim Kenney and zombie prom impresario Robert Drake, to denizens of the Philadelphia theater scene.
They also asked me. It was the part I was born to play.
My role (or I should say our role – the walking dead are really a collective mind) was to engage the living in a struggle, and be quickly dispatched during the opening scene. They had the choreography all worked out. Tribe of Fools does very physical theater, past productions have been heavy with fighting, dancing, and parkour acrobatics. For this role the motivation was attack, then die.
At the risk of over-thinking a role that is, by definition, brainless, I found myself wondering what I could bring to the stage. What am I doing with this character, and where can I take it?
For better or worse, we are in a zombie moment. AMC found a hit with “Walking Dead,” as did the publishers of the Jane Austen spoof, “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” But you knew that.
Wherever pop culture goes, academics follow. This zombie phase is a sign of a dominant conformity, of a lifeless culture, of a digital onslaught: however vigorously you delete junk email, the next wave will relentlessly stumble toward you.
What I learned from Tribe of Fools is that zombies are profoundly physical. Unlike other monsters that can be seduced, outsmarted, or defeated through magical thinking (a silver bullet? daylight? the glance of a pretty lady?) zombies can only be stopped by beating the crap out of them. They only stop when you hit them hard, over and over, in the head, until they turn to hamburger.
The Center City gym I belong to has a large tractor tire and a 10lb sledgehammer. The gym keeps them out of sight, in the stairwell away from the spin classes and the upholstered weight machines. This is an exercise people do alone: pick up the sledgehammer and beat the tire, over and over, in an empty stairwell. Just keep wailing until you can’t think anymore. This is workday catharsis.
Zombies are nothing but husks of flesh that eat flesh. They don’t think or feel, and require no thinking or feeling to destroy them. Just keep wailing on them until they stop moving. And that’s OK. You can’t offend them. Because they are already dead.