‘Dr. Nympho vs. the Sex Zombies,’ mashup of genres, amuses in L.A.
Jeff Sumner as Jerry, with a few of the ensemble / Daniel J. Sliwa

LOS ANGELES—The intimate Celebration Theatre does such fine work! The company performs plays that may or may not be highly familiar to L.A. audiences and puts a freshly queer spin on them. “We entertain, inspire, and empower with innovative productions that celebrate the LGBTQ community,” they state in their Mission. Recent examples have been their productions of Cabaret, Born to Win, and Die, Mommie, Die!

Sometimes the theatre leases out its space and co-produces a show. That is the case with Dr. Nympho vs. the Sex Zombies (seen April 26), a creation of Cherry Poppins and Orgasmico that first made its appearance at the 2018 Hollywood Fringe Festival. The self-styled “burlesque rock musical”—“a rock musical for the next sexual revolution”—won the festival’s Best Musical, Best World Premiere, and the Bechdal Wallace Awards.

I am not especially a zombie fan—that beat is well covered by some of our other esteemed and better informed writers—but Dr. Nympho came so highly vouched for that I did not want to miss it.

Despite its many moving parts, with no fewer than 17 zombies and zombettes on a stage not that much larger than the monitor screen on which you’re reading this, Dr. Nympho is the unified vision—book, music and lyrics—of Michael Shaw Fisher. Fisher, dubbed “a genius” by Dr. Nympho’s director Sarah Haworth, is artistic director of Orgasmico Theatre Company and has authored such plays or musicals as Doomsday Cabaret, Exorcistic: The Rock Musical Parody Experiment, Shakespeare’s Last Night Out, and Skullduggery: The Musical Prequel to Hamlet. He is married to Alli Miller—“even though she thinks he’s an idiot,” according to his bio in the program—who plays Dr. Nimfa opposite Fisher as her on-stage husband Tiger, later renamed Tad.

There is an esthetic going on here: the macabre, the exotic, genre-defying and -mashing, satire, genderbending and freelovery everywhere. The costuming looks like Steampunk bordello, a 21st-century extrapolation of the Threepenny Opera’s strumpet get-ups, complete in some scenes with pasties (thus “burlesque”).

The two-act story centers on the brilliant Emory University pathologist Dr. Nimfa Delacroix. Her parents sweetly named her a “nymph” in a sort of Romance languagy way (it’s “ninfa” in Spanish, Portuguese and Italian), and she was teased mercilessly, pursued and pawed over all through her childhood. Indeed, she wound up living up to her name and became a teenage nymphomaniac, got pregnant by the then-Tiger (who went on to become the golf-playing proctologist Tad), married him and then had a second child.

Nimfa now lives a “normal life” with her nuclear 21st-century family, though she is now terrified of sex, having gone through an early overdose of it. She consults the shrink Dr. Fiona Shatz (Madeleine Heil) to overcome her trauma—illustrated by the T-shirt Tad wears emblazoned with the words MY WIFE SAYS NO. Dr. Shatz would like to liberate Nimfa from her fears by having sex with her herself. The 17-year-old daughter Kelly (Kristyn Evelyn) is dying to go to the fabulous Doll House dance club her friends are raving about, and her younger brother Davey (Kim Dalton) is addicted to internet porn. So, yeah, typical family issues.

We see Dr. Nimfa in her laboratory in Atlanta where she is examining the corpses of Adam and Eve, two of the Doll House denizens, who exhibit signs of a strange new mutant disease presumably spread through sexual contact. One of their symptoms is enlarged sexual organs. The exuberant, non-stop sexualized, free-for-all, no-holes-barred choreography by Brin Hamblin (who plays Virus in the show) perfectly signals how this could be possible. Just as she concludes her diagnosis, however, the couple, now zombies, get up from the examining table at the morgue and resume their dance of death in what the French used to call an “Apache” style—wild, violent bebop couples movements with elaborately coordinated turns.

Her fellow scientists are skeptical because she has to admit, the bodies are no longer there to be examined. Believing she has gone off her rocker, they ostracize her from the scientific community. Indeed, the zombies are back at the Doll House infecting everyone, including her own daughter Kelly. What to do? She has to invent a cure that will simultaneously keep the public from further harm and resolve her own sexuality and family problems. A tall order! But no challenge is too great for the pioneering woman scientist.

All of which, don’t forget, is set to music, with musical direction of a five-piece band by Sandy Chao Wang.

The director, Sarah Haworth, a co-founder with Alli Miller of Cherry Poppins Musical Theatre Burlesque, says, “We are in the game of empowerment, joy, self love and acceptance…. We believe we are helping people realize that there is no shame in being confident, loving your body and your self, and being comfortable with your sexuality.” She points to the troubled family members in this musical, saying, “We’ve all been one of these people at one time or another in our lives. Maybe we needed a sex zombie to come in and wake us up (pun intended)?”

I only read Michael Shaw Fisher’s message in the program when I got home, but he anticipated one of my concerns about “the next sexual revolution.” To me it resembled very much the last sexual revolution of the 1960s and ’70s, and we all know what became of an excess of free love, with consequences that still affect (and infect) us to this day.

Fisher writes that when “I told my own father about the musical, he raised to me that its premise (however absurd) might be insensitive considering how sexually transmitted diseases have ravaged our society. I pointed out that for all the horrors epidemics inflict, they also bring out the best in humanity’s ability to overcome its fears and unify against them. To me, this show is about the unification of family in all its ever-changing forms, and how, despite what horrors threaten it, that human impulse to love will never change.”

Again, I rely on our zombologists to confirm or refute this thesis. I do recall in the 1980s, when I sang with the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus and our members were dropping like flies in August, people would say things like, “It’s just another reminder to hold your loved ones a little closer tonight.” Undoubtedly, millions of people—lovers, friends, family and community members—rose to heights of generous empathy in that era. Many social theorists say it was that show of pain and solidarity that led America toward same-gender marriage within a few decades.

Nevertheless, it was a tragic, terrible price to pay for those lessons. The new PrEP treatment (Pre-exposure prophylaxis), available now for people at high risk for HIV, involves taking HIV medicines daily to lower their chances of getting infected. Studies show a high rate of efficiency at keeping this particular zombie at bay. But I fear that “the next sexual revolution” of these Grindr and Tinder times is just as faceless, anonymous, alienating and unsatisfying as the last one often could be.

The production team features scenic design by Nicholas Acciani, lighting by Matthew Brian Denman, costumes and props by Kelly Stevenson.

Only one of the actors, Jeff Sumner, who plays the evil scientist Jerry, an eager patient of Dr. Tad’s proctology practice, is a member of Actors’ Equity, which I believe says something: The whole production has a kind of garage-show feel to it. The songs are unmemorable, the story a pulpy post-modern soap opera, the dancing exceptional, especially for the small space, but repetitive.

Nevertheless, for an entertaining, bacchanalian night out on the town, maybe with your bestie beside you and a drink in your hand, and if you give free rein to your suspension of disbelief, hey, go for it. (My companion’s advice. She thinks I was trying to take the whole thing far too seriously.)

The playwright as Tad captures well the “cool dad” he’s trying so hard at being, and Alli Miller as Dr. Nimfa is a powerhouse of conflicted energy. Jeff Sumner as Jerry is satanic (though as the mastermind of the virus derived in part from dolphin herpes and some Amazonian fungus, the fact that he loves his proctology appointments may be a swipe at gay “bottoms”).

Other as-yet unnamed members of the cast include Natalie Masini as Dr. Tad’s assistant Stacy, Schoen Hodges and Sarah Wines as the cadavers Adam and Eve (Patient 0’s), the Zombettes Sarah Haworth, Cory Robison, Reagan Osborne, Amber Bracken, and Everjohn Feliciano, and Sexy Zombies Meredith Lim and Lauren Avon.

Dr. Nympho vs. the Sex Zombies runs through May 26 at Celebration Theatre @ the Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave. in Los Angeles 90038. Performances are Fri. and Sat. at 8 pm, and Sun.  at 7 pm. For tickets, or to view a complete schedule or for further details, call (323) 957-1884 or visit the theatre website. Recommended for mature audiences 18 and older.


CONTRIBUTOR

Eric A. Gordon
Eric A. Gordon

Eric A. Gordon is the author of a biography of radical American composer Marc Blitzstein, co-author of composer Earl Robinson’s autobiography, and the translator (from Portuguese) of a memoir by Brazilian author Hadasa Cytrynowicz. He holds a doctorate in history from Tulane University. He chaired the Southern California chapter of the National Writers Union, Local 1981 UAW (AFL-CIO) for two terms and is director emeritus of The Workmen's Circle/Arbeter Ring Southern California District. In 2015 he produced “City of the Future,” a CD of Soviet Yiddish songs by Samuel Polonski.

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