I think we can all agree that performing a zombie apocalypse can be difficult, even if you do have experience. Despite this, the Albion College Theatre Department’s first-year students tackled the performance – and the zombies – head-on.
The first character we see on stage is played by Toledo first-year Ashvin Sharma. His character walks across the stage – seemingly oblivious – before he is attacked by a zombie, the event that sets off the apocalypse.
I must admit I’m not much of a zombie fan. All the blood, guts and gore of zombies typically aren’t my thing. But, Sharma’s disturbingly convincing screams within the first two minutes guaranteed my attention for the remainder of the show.
Later on, just before intermission, Captain Channing, played by Orville sophomore Seph Cartier, delivered a line I knew I needed to write down as soon as I heard it.
“When the whole world is burning… everyone’s a firefighter,” Captain Channing said.
Not only did this line strike a cord emotionally, I also found it reflected ironically on another one of the main characters, Kelly, played by Columbus senior Orion Hower, who always seems to be starting fires. Hower came through – as always – with a stunning delivery of their character. Kelly is always ready to jump into action – or make some within the play’s rag-tag group when it gets a little too quiet. As we get flashbacks of the story through Kelly’s interrogation, we learn the backstory of many characters, as well as those that have been lost in the first two years of the “zed” (AKA, zombie) apocalypse.
Brady Zalac, Marysville first-year, plays Jeff, one of the first characters we meet after hearing Sharma’s screams in the prologue of the story. He is the father to teenager Kristina, played by Battle Creek high school student Ciara Funk. You can feel the impact of Zalac’s presence from the moment he steps on stage. He’s the optimist that counters Kelly’s skepticism; wanting to include Rachel, a nurse from before the apocalypse played by Phoenix junior Alaya Swoope, in the group when Kelly wants to part ways as quickly as possible. You can feel Jeff’s protective nature in his interactions with Kristina. Alongside all this, you can feel the sadness he carries with him because of the apocalypse.
After the incredible performance he gave, I was thoroughly surprised to learn that he had mainly been cast in background roles before “2AZ.” Here, Zalac stepped into the spotlight perfectly to help fight off the zombies. So perfectly, in fact, that I assumed he had been cast in more center-stage roles before coming to Albion.
There is not an emotion that Jeff has that Zalac doesn’t show the audience – but the height of his Herrick Theatre debut has to be near the end of the play, when Jeff goes through the worst tragedy his character can endure. The emotion was palpable in this scene – you could feel the absolute devastation and heartbreak. Zalac performed this scene so well, he made it feel like it was your pain.
The performance given by Funk, in the role of Jeff’s daughter Kristina, is just as impactful. Kristina swears up and down, much to her father’s dismay, and aches to fight the way the adults do. Funk inspires waves of laughter from the audience, by way of some much-needed comic relief, to an otherwise heavy play. Simultaneously, she delivers somber moments with an extra gut-punch of emotion fueling her delivery.
With the strong emotions we see from Kristina, I was astounded to learn during the play that Funk is only 16-years-old. With the acting skills she makes use of on-stage, I expected her to be a powerful first-year theatre student at Albion. I can only hope to see more of Ciara on Albion’s stage.
The other first-year briefly mentioned earlier is Sharma. Though he is the last first-year to be discussed, he is certainly not the least. Sharma is as capable of horrifying screams as he is of delivering a monologue with the best of the actors on-stage.
While Sharma’s character, Billy, is pure evil on-stage, Sharma is anything but off-stage. When we talked after the show, he told me about the difficulty he had getting into the character of Billy because of the character’s background. He said he eventually got the mindset after he fully threw himself into the character during the numerous practices and rehearsals leading up to opening night. Sharma noted that there was a significant difference between Albion’s and other theatre productions he had previously been part of.
“It’s a lot more rigorous,” Sharma said. “We’re making changes every minute.”
In regards to changes, Playwright Michael Brian Ogden said there was a rather significant change made in this production. During the other – and first – performance of his play, the venue only allowed him to use the “f—” word one time in the entirety of the play. Odgen said he went back afterwards and added more curse words throughout to take advantage of the opportunity this performance gave him.
If you have already seen “2AZ,” you’ll understand how significant of a change between performances this was. He also said that he has two favorite characters: To him, “Rachel is the platonic ideal” while Kelly was the “most fun to write.”
As for the actors that aren’t first-years, they were stunning as always. Detroit senior Ayaina Singletary gave a captivating, but stern interrogation of Kelly that led the audience to learn how we got to the present-day. Cartier, meanwhile, was stoic yet emotional in the role of Captain Channing, a military man trying to get back to headquarters.
We even saw Captain Channing’s emotional side around Rachel. Rachel was a nurse pre-apocalypse and helped heal many ailments for other characters – and took a liking to Channing over the course of the play. Brooklyn Park Minn. sophomore Nico Alfahed played Sergeant Porter, a military man who’s a good shot behind the sights. Porter also caused some debates in the on-stage and off-stage groups: Are The Beatles good? Did they write bad songs? Sergeant Porter certainly thought they “wrote the occasional bad song.”
Kat Voogd, Marquette junior, played the botanist Dr. Sanford, who was rumored to be able to create a vaccine to save them all.
Did that happen? I’m not telling you, you’ll have to go see the play and find out!
As I said earlier, I’m not a zombie person. The zombie genre has never been something that interested me. However, the cast – or rather horde – that swarmed the Herrick theater stage fit their roles so perfectly I couldn’t help but be invested in the stories of each and every character.
The Albion College Theatre Department will be running four more shows next weekend: Thursday and Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. If you’re debating about going to see “2AZ,” don’t think anymore – go!