Sitcoms, in general, rely on unwavering formula, no sitcom more so than "Seinfeld." The same could be said of live parody shows, which avoid surprises and lean heavily on the short hand and touchstones of pop culture. It is, perhaps, unsurprising then, Gorilla Tango Theatre's "Zombie Seinfeld" succeeds insofar as it relies on the quality of its cast's impressions of the show's well-known characters.
These impressions range from director Jeremy M. Eden's uncannily spot on rendition of Jerry himself to Loren Jones' more suggestive, but arguably more interesting, Elaine to Frank Menolascino's Kramer, which relies almost solely on physical mimicry.
Pete Mandra's script starts out strong enough that the audience gets a good idea of what the actors can do, but whether it's the sitcom formula or the script itself or the premise -- there's a zombie apocalypse in progress, and nothing happens -- there's not quite enough to fully support an hour-long show.
The second half suffers particularly from frequent, oddly timed "act breaks." These are signaled by the lights coming down hard for the briefest of moments, the familiar bass fills, then bringing the lights back up on the cast and half a dozen or so extras in zombie make-up (apparently a last-minute addition) moving the handful of set pieces around.
The gag with the extras is funny the first couple of times, but as the hour wore on, the clunky pacing delivers such a critical blow to the show's movement that even with the cast freezing at the end, it wasn't quite clear that it was over.
The set is a triptych backdrop suggesting the familiar apartment setting. Its stark gray lines pointedly flat two-dimensionality would have been funny enough on their own without all the pace-killing movement of couches and crates and arm chairs.
Unfortunately, the set wasn't quite up to all the rough handling on opening night. The door actually fell off its hinges, and at one point Menolascino toppled a stack of crates and all its contents. The cast handled these snafus with well-timed improv, for the most part, but the incidents were an unfortunate underscoring of the show's pacing issues.
In the main cast, Eden, Jones and Justin Hamby as George capture the chemistry that made the show popular. Menolascino is a show stopper whenever he enters. That's probably appropriate for Kramer. It works in a 22-minute episode, but it wears pretty thin over the course of an hour.
The supporting cast are good on the whole. In particular, Jonathon Rooney's J. Peterman is easily as strong as anyone in the main cast and Patrick Ruetschlin gives an interesting performance as Newman, albeit one that might be more original than the production calls for. But the script doesn't really integrate the supporting characters into the story, such as it is, so that the off-site scenes that pair the leads with supporting actors feel like a further drag on an already problematic script.
"Zombie Seinfeld" runs through June 28 at Gorilla Tango's Skokie Theatre, 7924 Lincoln Ave., Skokie, IL. For information or tickets, call 847-677-7761 or visit www.gorillatango.com.