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Robrt Pela: Review of 'Pornozombies'

There is no critiquing a play like The Pornozombies, now onstage at Nearly Naked Theatre.

The Pornozombies is intentionally bad theater, a two act so deliberately self-conscious that it never appears to be sending up either pornography or cheesy zombie movies. Plays like this offer a couple of hours of harmless fun, but their high-pitched comedy is beginning to sound like the death rattle of camp.

Susan Sontag rather famously defined camp for us in 1964 as “something of a private code, a badge of identity even, among small urban cliques.” A half-century later, it is neither so rarified nor so engaging.  There’s a reason for this.  Camp these past several decades has been dependent upon the earnestness of pop culture from the middle of the last century. Today, references to beach party movies come 30 years too late, and wisecracks about Bette Davis are lost on audiences who think Top Gun is an “old movie”

Today, The Pornozombies and its ilk are neither subversive nor daring. And because they rely upon bad acting and cheap scenic design, they are nearly impossible to either miscast or to disparage.  Having an opinion about the need for another Pornozombies, or the quality of its performance is unnecessary.  Popular culture is so informed today by camp and kitsch that a campy spoof may parody the very idea of the campy spoof - and having done so, such a play appears, in 2014, to be just another goofy comedy.

This one’s about a mad scientist who is reanimating corpses who then star in zombie porn videos he films, and the female police chief who’s trying to bust up the porn-zombie ring because she once spotted her dead father in one.  It stars Doug Loynd and Laura Anne Kenney, both perfect scenery-chewers, and a lot of people who can’t act at all, which in this context allows them to appear talented. 

Where the audience for such fare as Matt Casarino’s fast-moving script were once in on the joke we now run the risk of being the joke: People who still find humor in deliberately crummy acting, intentionally awful sets, and the wild surmise with which overwrought dialogue is delivered might be the very squares who are typically mocked in these smarmy satires.

We once applauded talented theater artists like Damon Dering, Neatly Naked’s artistic director and the director of The Pornozombies, for bravery and inventive insight; today, we might worry that these same talented artists are becoming quaint, stuck in a once-outrageous rut.

Robrt Pela’s reviews appear in the Phoenix New Times .