Saturday, June 04, 2016


The setting is familiar: a 12-step-program-type support group. A woman stands, says, "Hello, my name is Mica, and I'm Z-positive," and everyone else says, "Hi, Mica." Does "Z-positive" perhaps remind you of "HIV-positive"? It's supposed to. The Z stands for zenoplasmosis, an infectious agent that turns people into zombies in "post-zombiepocalypse America." Does the "zeno" remind you of "xeno," as in "xenophobia"? It's supposed to.

Rahn, Lathon, Spielmann, Sanyal, Aulisi
Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum

Jason Tseng's Rizing, directed by Emily Hartford and presented by the fabulous Flux Theatre Ensemble, exists as both an entertaining zombie drama and a less successful allegory for the treatment of HIV-positive people and (from the playwright's note in the program) "other people marginalized and oppressed by our hegemonic society: communities of color, Muslims, immigrants and refugees..."

As a zombie drama, Rizing has much going for it. It presents a world where zombies take drugs to rein in their baser instincts and count how long it's been since they last "regressed." The zombies live in the "Outer Ring," often in "Z-town," and relationships between people who are Z-positive and Z-negative are rare. Many Z-negative people consider Z-positives to be monsters, not humans. As the play begins, the anti-zombie drugs are starting to wear off, and lines quickly become drawn between between those who see Z-positive people as worthwhile humans and those who would prefer them all dead.

Tseng's writing is often wry; as one example, a Z-negative person involved with a Z-positive person loves her dearly but still won't have sex with her until after she's eaten. He's very good with the details of having to suppress the deep and fervid drive to eat brains--even the brains of loved ones. Not all Z-positives want to repress themselves, however. The "Zealots" see their zombie instincts as the truest, most sacred parts of themselves.


There's also this "house" that the zombies go to, sort of in a dream, sort of in their heads, and see the people they love--or their memories of the people they love. Or something. The dream house may be real, or "real," or it may be the zenoplasmosis speaking to itself within the zombies. Or something. It includes an inner sanctum (called the "Sanctum"), where, well, something or other happens. It all seems rather "sanctum ex machina," allowing Tseng a way to end the play. The whole conceit fails to land emotionally. I'd much rather have an ending that relies on our protagonists making decisions, fighting obstacles, and learning and growing.

[end of spoilers]

While Rizing is entertaining to watch (albeit at least 20 minutes too long), its lack of focus distances it from the audience. There are too many story lines, and they add up to less than the sum of their parts. What is Rizing ultimately about? And why should we actually care about the Z-positive people?

That question provides a nice segue to the problem of Rizing trying to be an allegory for oppressed people. While some Muslims may be terrorists, most are not. While some HIV-positive people may transmit HIV through carelessness or malice, the vast majority of them are no threat to HIV-negative people. While the existence of LGBTI people may freak out some non-LGBTI people, the truth is that the former do the latter no harm.

But the defining fact about zombies is this: given the opportunity, they will eat your fucking face off. And that's why, on a dramatic level, they're difficult to empathize with. On an allegorical level, they're inapt at best.

Rizing is largely well-acted and well-directed, although I found myself occasionally laughing at, rather than with, some of the directorial devices. For example, the jerky movements used to depict imminent zombie regression were kinda silly and took me out of the play every time. The performers are Tonia E. Anderson, Jessica Angleskhan, Arthur Aulisi, Daryl Lathon, Lori Elizabeth Parquet, Anna Rahn, Debargo Sanyal, Alisha Spielmann, and Gavin-Keith Umeh.

Flux Theatre has adopted a "Living Ticket Initiative" that allows you to pay what you want to see their shows. It's a wonderful opportunity to see excellent theatre at a price you can afford. Flux's batting average is amazing, and even while I had reservations about Rizing, it was still well worth seeing. Rizing closes tonight, but keep an eye out for future shows. Flux rocks!

Wendy Caster
(press ticket; third row on the aisle)

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