Heady helpings of malice and spite flow like flagons of the fine sherry mentioned in the title of this classic Edgar Allen Poe vignette. Halloween, Edgar Allan Poe and the craftily imaginative stylings of the local director professionally known as Zombie Joe are such a natural fit, you really suspect they ought to meld them all into a brand and call it "Zombie Edgar Allan Joe." Zombie Joe's production is less a standard "play" than it is a harrowing, performance-art dramatization of Poe's short story the creepy tale of a gentleman's psychotic vengeance against oafish Fortunato, who stops off at Montresor's palazzo for a nice glass of the bubbly and is instead immured in a dank, skeleton-filled catacomb. A cast of eight Venetian mask-caparisoned performers narrate the story, essentially reciting the Poe tale as a script, but fleshing it out with ghoulish gusto and maniacal glee, wriggling like graveyard worms as they describe the filthy catacombs in which Fortunato is to meet his horrific end. The murkiness of the Zombie Joe Underground theater and the clownishly cheerful, Tom Waitsian musical accompaniment by guitarist-keyboardists Shayne Eastin and Michael Maio artfully craft an eerie graveyard atmosphere that's as full of despair as it is hilarious. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; through Nov. 5. (818) 202-4120, zombiejoes.homestead.com.
Fridays, Saturdays, 8:30 p.m. Starts: Oct. 14. Continues through Nov. 5, 2011