Dead End brings a creative take on the Zombie genre to Toronto’s Factory Theatre stage
Theatre Lab‘s production of Jonny Sun’s Dead End — taking over the Factory Studio until October 23rd — is a funny tale of fear, friendship, and flesh hungry zombies. The show is a creative take on the zombie genre with its inspirational material not far from the surface.
Dead End is one part Waiting For Godot, another part Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, mixed with a dollop of Shaun of the Dead. It is a quick-tongued, philosophical tango between two friends whose lives are being threatened by a zombie not twenty feet away.
The show starts with the audience literally in the dark. I liked this as it had me anticipating anything and put me on edge. The humorous voice-over describing the impact of the zombie apocalypse helped ease most anxiety, but I was still tense for what awaited me when the lights popped up.
We were then presented with the flashlights and panting of Chris Wilson and Christian Smith. As per the press kit, their characters are named Gun – as Chris has a gun tucked in the back of his pants – and No Gun.
The two search the refuge of the dead-end corridor of a high school for anything to make themselves comfortable. Finally deciding they are safe, Chris settles in to sleep, but his zombie-like yawns keep Christian awake and anxious. After a quick debate, Christian flips on a light switch to reveal the zombified Ceridwen Kingstone in all her undead glory.
From there the duo begin their dialogue on the finer points of “last” meals, sex, death, abandonment, and pronouns. The last item being a particular point of conflict between the pair, specifically when referring to their decaying, uninvited guest. Is the zombie a “he”, a “she”, or an “it”? A human or a thing?
Whereas Wilson (Gun) is the more action- and reality-based Estragon/Rosencrantz, Smith (No Gun) loosely plays the Vladimir/Guildenstern of the two, often questioning the philosophical and psychological impacts of their actions.
This is best exemplified in their conversation about the philosophy behind genocide, where Smith tells Wilson to shoot the zombie but not because he is threatened by it being something different from him. Wilson states he is doing it only for their survival.
Like most of their exchanges, it is hilarious because of their quick delivery, but this one stood out due to the serious undertone of the conversation.
Overall, I enjoyed Smith and Wilson’s back-and-forth. Sometimes it was hurried and panicked, like above, and other times it was dialogue-free such as the scene where Smith is delighted by his “last” meal of a granola bar. In silence, Smith plays with the wrapper and sniffs and teases the snack as Wilson smoulders at him from across the stage.
Ceridwen Kingstone deserves high praise for her zombie portrayal. Her sheer stamina was amazing, spending the majority of the 65 minute show looming off-balance in the background only punctuating her presence with the odd but menacing moan, growl, or groan.
Production Makeup and Hair Designer Valentina Vatskovskaya, Costume Designer Roselie Williamson, and SPFX Designer Megan Fraser also helped bring Kingstone’s zombie to “life” and their work was appreciated.
Lighting Designer Melissa Joakim deserves mention for her choices as they helped set the mood for the show. What we can’t see (and what we don’t know) is what we fear the most as our imaginations fill the endless void of darkness, and the lighting helped play this idea through.
I think this last point is one of the major themes of the show. Specifically, the characters fear death, but they question whether they fear dying or being dead.
Everything leads to a satisfying conclusion. However, I was expecting a smidge more of a twist with respect to the fates of Smith and Wilson. That being said, I can’t condemn something for not meeting my abstract expectations.
In the end, I feel Dead End is a great lead up to Halloween. It had me questioning what I fear while giving me laughs throughout the night.
- Dead End is playing until October 23, 2016 at Factory Theatre Studio (125 Bathurst St.)
- Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm, and Sundays at 2pm
- Ticket prices range from $25-$30, with PWYC Tuesdays. Wednesdays & Thursdays are $25, and Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays are $30 and can be purchased online or through the box office at (416) 504 9971
- Note: Some light gore with respect to the zombie and props
Photo of Christian Smith, Ceridwen Kingstone, and Chris Wilson by Samantha Hurley.