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Review: THE OCTOBER NIGHT OF JOHNNY ZERO at Backyard Renaissance

Review: THE OCTOBER NIGHT OF JOHNNY ZERO at Backyard Renaissance

The October Night of Johnny Zero runs through December 10th

THE OCTOBER NIGHT OF JOHNNY ZERO at Backyard Renaissance is a play that has a lot of mystery and secrets woven into the plot - which makes it difficult to write about without spoiling. What can be said is that it brings some excellent performances to the stage as the dramatic tensions raises, but may leave you with more questions than are answered when you leave. THE OCTOBER NIGHT OF JOHNNY ZERO is playing through December 10th at 10th Avenue Theatre.

All Johnny (Marcel Ferrin) wants to do is go home and write his paper so he can play in the basketball game. But since it is quite literally a dark and stormy night in 1981 and his mother hasn't come to pick him up yet, the high school basketball star finds himself accepting an offer from Franky (Geoffrey Ulysses Geissinger), a classmate he barely knows, to use the phone at his house.

As the two come through the door, Franky immediately starts awkwardly navigating the dilapidated house to make as little noise as possible. Johnny is seemingly oblivious to this and the very specific instructions that Franky is giving him about using the landline phone precariously propped up on the floor and held together in duct tape.

Soon the reason for Franky's increasingly odd behavior is revealed - it's Franky's mother Barbara (Jessica John) who is incensed that they are using the phone, and tells Franky that he's responsible for the charges to call 411 information (a quarter each time). She's openly hostile and derisive to Franky, is aggressively inquisitive to Johnny, and it seems like the only thing in the home she truly loves is the jug of wine in the middle of the table.

Due to the storm, they all stuck with each other for the time being, and Barbara switches between an antagonistic vein of hospitality and straight-up bullying, while Franky is quiet and quirky, with flashes of defiance. Johnny seems at a loss for what he is experiencing, but soon his quick temper and frustration mean they are all snipping at each other.

Review: THE OCTOBER NIGHT OF JOHNNY ZERO at Backyard Renaissance
Marcel Ferrin, left, Jessica John and Geoffrey Ulysses Geissinger in THE OCTOBER NIGHT OF JOHNNY ZERO from Backyard Renaissance -Courtesy of Daren Scott

John as Barbara is ferocious and funny, viciously vivacious, and this is a stellar performance from her. Geissinger's Franky is timid and awkward, smart and secretive, and clearly has a strong survival instinct. Ferrin's Johnny at first seems like the everyman audience surrogate in this madhouse, but soon it is revealed he has more similarities with his current hosts than he may be willing to admit. They're each haunted and hollow about something, and it's that emptiness that drives them all.

Directed by Richard Baird, the play builds at a steady pace, and you can tell that everything from the storm outside, the flicker of lights, to how a character eats pizza, has been calculated to keep your nerves taught.

The house by set designer Yi-Chien Lee is perfectly dilapidated and detailed, while the lighting design by Kate Rose Reynolds helps create shadows and give eerie life to seemingly lifeless spaces. Sound design by Kevin Anthenill, and costumes by Lilymoon Perez help tie everything together.

Playwright Francis Gercke has a gift for writing dialogue that is clever, rapid-fire, and funny. This show is darkly funny, and builds in plenty of mystery and tension, but would benefit from editing. The play is trying to be a lot of things at once; a horror, a family drama, a mystery, and ends up feeling muddled. There is not enough payoff at the end to truly satisfy, and there is a moment of violence that feels both unnecessary and very hard to continue to move forward after.

THE OCTOBER NIGHT OF JOHNNY ZERO is an intriguing creative challenge for both the performers and the audience, and I love that whether it is a new or established work Backyard Renaissance not afraid to think outside the box.

How To Get Tickets

THE OCTOBER NIGHT OF JOHNNY ZERO from Backyard renaissance is playing through December 10th at 10th Avenue Theatre. For ticket and showtimes go to www.backyardrenaissance.com

Photo Credit: Jessica John, left, Marcel Ferrin and Geoffrey Ulysses Geissinger in THE OCTOBER NIGHT OF JOHNNY ZERO from Backyard Renaissance - Courtesy of Daren Scott



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