By Melissa Groth
Ever experienced loss so great it made you crave the taste of human flesh? Hopefully not. However, sometimes the experience of loss is akin to feeling like a zombie wandering through a world to which you don’t belong. This is the premise of Half Life (a zombie love letter for no one), the story of a wounded girl fighting her way back to life before loss.
After a night of partying during which she finds out her boyfriend is leaving her for someone else, Regina wrecks her car in a ditch. When she wakes up she discovers she is suffering from some serious wounds, but she still has a pulse. She meanders back home, where she is rejected by her community due to her appearance. Is she a zombie? A demon? A ghost? They don’t know for sure, but they don’t stick around long enough to find out. Her mother screams at the sight of her and forces her out of the house, leaving Regina no where to sleep but back at the scene of the accident. Flabbergasted and alone, Regina insists “I’m not dead! I’m just hurt real bad.” She wanders between the library, the scene of the accident, a bar, her mother’s house, remembering pieces of her previous life and wondering if things can ever go back to the way they were.
Half Life is a metaphor of loss and grieving. The piece a is funny, yet serious story of the struggle to get back to normal. After suffering a loss, Regina finds herself isolated, unable to relate to people or truly recognize herself. Her refrain of “I’m not dead! I’m just hurt real bad,” is heart wrenching and poignant in a play that is otherwise humorous, if darkly so. Though I found myself laughing at some of the stereotypical characters and dialogue, I also found that despite the dark humor there were moments of emotional rawness that struck home. Regina may be a Cheeto-loving, foul-mouthed, BMX bike-riding hick of a zombie, but the isolation she portrays is universal. The balance between humor and sadness is at times uncomfortable and difficult to interpret, which is how the experience of grief can be for many.
Rachel Hynes, who also devised the production, plays Regina. She is fantastic. In a particularly funny scene, she interviews for a receptionist position with Walker’s Frozen Gibble Bits. Dragging her leg behind her and with a scarf around her neck to cover the huge gaping wound, Regina gives a superb interview. Unfortunately, she’s a zombie, and not even the greatest enthusiasm for Gibble Bits can make up for that fact. Jonathan Lee Taylor plays all other characters from Regina’s mother to a British goth club owner who relates more to Regina’s plight than any other character. He depicts Regina’s mother as somewhat of a religious nut who rejects her “demon” daughter, but whose character softens when she begins to question her faith after realizing her real daughter is missing.
Half Life is a fantastic performance piece and a poignant meditation on loss and grief. Hynes and Taylor are wonderful. The piece also includes segments of choreographed dance, packing a big performance punch into a relatively short production done in a small space. The set design is thoughtful, featuring pieces of Regina’s previous life hanging from the ceiling in pieces of plastic. The space changes and adapts to the chaos of the scene, offering a physical reflection of the emotional state of chaos caused by loss. Regina may be struggling to find a life she recognizes, but anyone who sees this play who has experienced loss will recognize themselves in her.
Half Life (a zombie love letter for no one) runs through February 21st at the Mead Theatre Lab Program at Flashpoint, a CulturalDC project.