When you picture those halcyon days of the late 80s, what comes to mind? And don’t say “those weren’t halcyon days.” Shh, go with me here, I looked the word up in a dictionary and everything. Now that that’s out of the ways, if your answer wasn’t “a Vegas-themed casino party for donors and employees of Nurture Labs, Incorporated,” it’s time to change your mind. You see, for four weekends in August 2018, in the hallowed halls of Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre, Brandon Slezak’s Together Again is here to show you the true meaning of togetherness—it exists in 1989, at a small office party with light refreshments, a sweaty and angry boss, a pair of mischievous doctors, a sleazy events planner, overly friendly fellow donors, and a lovable, unlucky moron. Bottoms up, bet on black, and let the good times roll.
For regular attendees of Zombie Joes, Together Again is a bit of a departure from mainstays like Urban Death and Blood Alley that regularly appear on the performance schedule. This show is an immersive, sandbox-style production that transports audiences to the aforementioned 1989 casino night, inviting them into the world of Nurture Labs as they try to uncover both their own purpose there as “donors” and what kind of horrors they may have been donating to. But, again unlike traditional Zombie Joes performances, Slezak’s show dispatches with the expected horror themes and relies on its delightfully bizarre comedy to pull in its audience.
I came to Together Again not knowing what to expect, and was pleasantly surprised to be as deliberately mislead as I was. There’s so much more to this weird gathering than meets the eye. It’s over the top, it’s campy, it’s sci-fi and schlocky 80’s comedy rolled into a screwed up little package that bears repeat viewings to suss out every joke. Zombie Joe’s regulars Slezak, Caiti Wiggins, and Max Zumstein turn in hilarious performances that round out a talented cast that also features David Dickens, Juan Magana, Ian Michaels, Lacey Rae, and Elizabeth J. Torres. Michaels’ ridiculous turn as one of the mysterious scientists veers so far into the absurd that he and Rae in combo provided some of the heartiest and most confused laughs of the evening. Meanwhile, Zumstein has a breakout performance as John David Jefferies; you should ask him why they call him “Snake Eyes:” it’s a great story. Zumstein is so convincingly goofy I had to remind myself to explore other performers, such was the appeal of his character. The cast’s ability to work cohesively to tell this absurdist story is the greatest strength of the production.
Together Again and new original shows like it are hopefully indicative of an increasing trend for Zombie Joe’s Underground; they pair excellently with the horror the venue’s become renown for. As for the staff at Nurture Labs, after such a disastrous evening, it begs for a continuation. Together Forever, perhaps? I’ll certainly follow this quirky rabbit hole all the way down.
Together Again shows on Friday and Saturday nights at 8:30 at Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre through August 25th. Buy tickets here. Please also check out the productions Longing Pinnochio and Plus One, two new productions also debuting at ZJU this season, by going to the ZJU website.