My continuing review series of the plays collected in Geek Theater: 15 Plays by Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers is back after a very long delay! Each post will focus on one or two of the plays collected in the volume.
What’s nice about The Zombies of Montrose by James Morrow, the first of the medium length plays in the Geek Theater collection, is how casually and efficiently it incorporates its high-genre elements. The play centers on Arabella LeGrand, a “suburban voodoo queen” who lives in the fictional town of Montrose Pennsylvania and who has, by continually reanimating corpses, drawn the ire of the Public Safety Committee.
Already we are in refreshingly new territory – that Arabella is a voodoo queen in Pennsylvania and not New Orleans already defuses a lot of the clichés associated with this type of character. I am thinking of Angela Basset on the third season of American Horror Story, who was very good on the show but never really escaped the broad outlines of the archetype. This seems like a great opportunity for an actress to really reinvent the idea of a voodoo queen in performance.
That she is up against something as boring as a Public Safety Committee worried about sanitation is funny too. County Health Inspector Ben Grigsby’s concerns about the zombies seemingly end at getting dysentery and not, you know, being ripped apart. Of the zombies themselves, I think it’s important to note that they are not the dumb, people eating kind of zombie. These are voodoo zombies, who can only ingest the dirt of the grave they were dug out of (a marvelous detail) and who are intelligent – they like reading Heidegger, Kant, and Nietzsche – but are emotionally cut off. At Arabella’s behest, the zombies have been helping out the elderly and working class folks of Montrose, whether by gardening or babysitting kids.
And this, we learn, is actually the Safety Committee’s main issue. Arabella does not want her zombies to help rich people, because she’s afraid that the wealthy will take advantage of the zombie workforce and hog it for themselves. It’s an ingenious concept and the plot is very cleanly executed; Arabella must convince the three Safety Committee members to allow her to continue with the zombies and help them understand why corrupt people, like themselves, should not be allowed to have them.
Again, the details are what make it so much fun. All the zombies have all taken on pretentiously pronounced French names after joining the undead. Morrow has a good time with the little snippets of European philosophy the zombies have picked up – when a zombie named Maurice says that justice is never optional, Arabella asks him if he has been reading Karl Marx. “Dear Abby,” he replies. The zombies are also prone to launch into hilariously intricate metaphysical tirades from time to time. The zombie Gaston, talking to the woman who was in life his wife, says:
My reality is devoid of sensation. All qualia are absent. I think this suggests that consciousness isn’t supervenient on the physical, but reflects an as yet undiscovered property of nature, wouldn’t you agree?
Mind you, just before this speech Gaston offered his perplexed widow a bowl of dirt to snack on.
This and other sharply comedic contrasts make The Zombies of Montrose very easy to enjoy, but the sly social commentary about the wealthy and the working class put enough meat on its bones that it doesn’t feel slight in any way. That it is placed just after Consider the Services of the Departed is also a good call on the part of the editors, as it in many ways a practical, more narrative extension of that monologue.
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