Another mondo bizarro piece of Grand Guignol from Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, Blood Alley Christmas offers a yuletide variation on the template of Urban Death: a series of black-out vignettes, presented with little dialogue and less context, forcing the audience to confront a continuous series of unrelated scenes that alternate between black humor, horror, and depravity. The Christmas theme is not always readily apparent; sometimes the connection seems merely cosmetic - a matter of putting a Christmas cap on a character. Consequently, some scenes seem thrown in for their own sake, and the show winds up feeling overloaded, wearing out its welcome somewhere past the midway point. It's a bit like watching a large family open too many presents: there's some great surprises in those packages, but after a while, the novelty and excitement begins to wear off.
As you can probably guess, much of Bloody Alley Christmas is based on twisting familiar seasonal clichés into wicked abominations of their familiar selves: A girl on Santa's lap rubs sensually against his leg. Elves engage in a three-way. Santa shouts "Ho ho ho!" while receiving oral sex. And on and on. A little of this goes a long way, and after the shock value wears off, the audience begins to anticipate the "surprise" twist that will inevitably come. Speaking of "come," by the time the show gets around to having a trio of ladies in lingerie sing "Little Drummer Boy," you can guess the pun-ish emphasis they will put on the lyrics. (Even Joan Jett knew enough not to overdo this on her cover version of the song.)
Blood Alley Christmas is at its best when it eschews the sexual hijinks and gives its ensemble cast a chance to show off some real talent, whether it be abstract choreography or genuine dramatic acting. The famous scene from Dickens' A Christmas Carol, in which the Ghost of Christmas Present reveals the children Ignorance and Want, is presented straight up, without irony, and it is awesome. On the other end of the spectrum, the most wickedly funny moment of the show is spoof on Tiny Tim and the price that Bob Cratchit is willing to pay to get his family a nice Christmas goose. Along the way, there are remarkable moments as when two separate groups of actors, each writing together like some strange organism, meet in the center of the performance space, briefly merge, and then separate again. And we couldn't help laughing at the bit in which a bunch of Christmas shoppers kill each other trying to get what is presumably the last Deadpool toy on the shelves.
One element that nearly sustains Bloody Alley Christmas for its full length is the score, performed live on drums and electric guitar, with occasional help from synthesizer, by a single musician. The droning, amped-up chords sustain over throbbing rhythms, filling the air with atmosphere and anticipation, long after we know pretty much what to anticipate. In the end, the show confirms our theory about Christmas presents: it is better to spend resources on a few really good ones instead of spreading the money out on lots and lots of little ones.
Blood Alley Christmas completes its run at Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre this weekend with performances at 11pm on Friday and Saturday, December 16 and 17. The address is 4850 Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood, 91601. Get more info at the website.