Life can be hard. From day-to-day responsibilities to the expectations of modern society to fretting about that time you said the wrong thing at that cocktail party eight years ago, trying to keep yourself mentally afloat can be such a hassle.
We’re all human and, it seems, destined to break things and hurt people. But what if we weren’t? What if there was a way to check out, to go on living without any of these burdens? And what if this option created a world that was not only free of prejudice, but carbon neutral? All you have to do is agree to become a zombie.
This is the alternative world explored in “The Zombie Life,” an original new show taking the stage at the Firehouse Theatre. Presented as a self-help seminar, the play follows a therapist named Dr. Steve who offers a radical new treatment to his clients.
“A therapist is trying to cure the world of human pain and he’s come up with what he thinks is a good solution. If you stop being human and become zombie, you won’t get hurt,” explains playwright Chris Gavaler, an associate English professor at Washington and Lee University. “He ends up proving the opposite, that human connection is actually what’s going to keep us all live and healthy.”
The show began its afterlife as a series of monologues but morphed into “The Zombie Life” after Chris’ mother died of Alzheimer’s disease three years ago. Worried he would grow out of touch with his sister, he came up with an idea.
“I suggested to her that we work on a project together. That project evolved ‘The Zombie Monologues’ into ‘The Zombie Life,’” he says. “It kept us close.”
Joan Gavaler, a professor of dance and director of dance production at the College of William & Mary, served as dramaturg during the script’s development and directs this production. Befitting Joan’s dance background, the Gavalers say that the physical movement of the actors is more integral to the show than in most plays.
“To me, this play is giving us a chance to really think about and feel about what is important to us and how we disconnect from that,” Joan says. “Our zombies are really a symbol of disconnection.”
Joan stresses that these zombies aren’t the bloodthirsty hordes that TV and movies would have you believe.
“These are middle-class zombies,” Joan explains. “They had enough to eat and they had a place to live, but life was just too hard for the middle-class reasons that we feel life is too hard.”
Starring as Dr. Steve, local actor Ken Moretti says his character didn’t view himself as a success until he began promoting the new therapy.
“He saw himself as a social misfit until the zombie life came around, and that became a ticket to not only becoming an expert in his field but finding a way to logic out the reason why he didn’t find himself successful as a therapist,” Moretti says. “He found he wasn’t really helping people. They were still suffering from pain and he couldn’t find a cure for it. He felt that therapy was just applying Band-Aids.”
Joan says the show aims to get audiences to re-examine what matters to them.
“My hope is that it gives people pause,” she says. “The things that we think aren’t going well, are you really ready to give up, or can you keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward?”
“The Zombie Life” plays Aug. 18-29 at the Firehouse Theatre, 1609 W. Broad St. For information, visit firehousetheatre.org or call 355-2001.