Review: Strawdog Theatre’s “Pontypool”


Adapted by Tony Burgess
Directed by Anderson Lawfer


Zombies have been undergoing a renaissance lately, much like vampires and werewolves have over the past 20 years or so. This past year there were two films that show the huge range of storylines now being told – the romantic comedy “Warm Bodies”, and the fast-zombie invasion “World War Z”.  To continue keeping the genre fresh, new ways of telling the same basic story need to be found.

Strawdog Theatre is presenting a different take on the zombie with “Pontypool”, a play adapted by Tony Burgess from his book Pontypool Changes Everything. Burgess originally adapted his book as a screenplay for the 2008 film “Pontypool”, directed by Bruce McDonald. I attended the January 11, 2014 performance with Terror Dave Fuentes.

In preparation for the play, I watched the film (available on Netflix streaming!). If you have seen the movie, the play is a faithful adaptation of the screenplay.

Strawdog Hugen Hall Pontypool 2014-4

Jamie Vann, Anita Deely, Nikki Klix

Directed by Anderson Lawfer, the story revolves around down-on-his-luck shock jock radio DJ Grant Mazzy (Jamie Vann). Grant, his producer Sydney Briar (Anita Deely), and technician Laurel Ann (Nikki Klix) are the only ones present in the local Pontypool radio station. Sydney, who cares deeply about her town, wants him to focus on the news, traffic, and weather. Grant, on the other hand, wants to shake people up, piss them off – anything to get a reaction. This sets up their adversarial relationship that lasts for the entire play.

Strange things begin to happen in Pontypool, but the station only gets the information second hand through phone calls and over the news wire. The first indication that something is seriously wrong is when their traffic reporter Ken Loney (voiced by Michael Dailey) reports on a riot at a doctor’s office. It gets so severe people actually burst out of the walls of the building.

Strawdog Hugen Hall Pontypool 2014-2

Jamie Vann, Anita Deely, Nikki Klix

Tensions mount as the station receives several disturbing phone calls. Ken Loney calls them when he encounters some of the rioters firsthand. The only other person we meet is John Mazen (Jacob Alexander), the doctor whose office was destroyed earlier. His arrival at the radio station quickly leads to the final, disturbing ending.

Strawdog Hugen Hall Pontypool 2014-1

Jacob Alexander, Jamie Vann, Anita Deely, Nikki Klix

The play is only 60 minutes long with no intermission. This escalates the claustrophobic feeling quite a bit – there’s one set, 3 (or 4) people only, no scene changes or cuts. You really get to know these people, especially Grant and Sydney, and root for them to somehow get out of this mess.

The cast was very good. Jamie Vann as Grant Mazzy was very effective in making you care about the character. He was very funny as the DJ in the station and responsible for many of the laughs during the show. I’m not sure if in real life he has experience as a DJ but he certainly could be one.

Anita Deely as Sydney Briar had a tough gig – Sydney is always trying to rein Grant in, and she comes across as the “bad guy” trying to keep Grant from doing what he does best. Women in films and stories often get this role – being the millstone around the male protagonist’s neck, keeping him from being all he can be. They have to be the “adult” to the man’s “child”. Still, you can feel that Sydney cares about  Pontypool and will do what she must to make sure they have what they need from their radio station.

I’ve always liked first-person bottle stories. You never see a mob of people shambling or running down the street at the protagonist – you only hear them, or hear stories of them. You have to use your imagination, which is almost always stronger than any visual scene that can be staged. This is most evident with one of Ken Loney’s phone calls. He describes a teenage boy who has succumbed to the unknown virus, missing his hands and looking all broken. He puts the phone to the boy’s mouth and you hear a baby’s voice. It was very disturbing!

Strawdog Hugen Hall Pontypool 2014-3

Jacob Alexander, Anita Deely

One of the changes made to the play from the movie was to set it in Illinois. I’m not sure if the setting gets changed for every city the play is produced in, but it was a fun detail. Several of the radio ads they played during the action were very familiar – the ones I can recall were from Luna and Illinois Tourism.

The other change from the film is to the ending. The ending of the play is very good, and much better than that of the film.

The audience reaction was interesting. As I experienced when watching “The Shadow over Innsmouth”, reactions vary tremendously. Near the end of the play the woman sitting next to me burst out laughing a few times. I’m not sure if it was because what we were watching was genuinely funny – and much of the play was – or if it was a visceral reaction to the horror we were seeing. Some people do react with nervous laughter when scared. It could also have been the beer – there is a bar in the back of the theater so you can enjoy a beverage while watching the show.

If you want a quick but satisfying taste of live horror theater, head over to Strawdog Theatre on North Broadway and catch a performance of “Pontypool”.

Strawdog Theatre Information

Adapted by Tony Burgess
from his novel Pontypool Changes Everything
and the Bruce McDonald film

Directed by Anderson Lawfer

Thu, Fri & Sat 8pm · Sun 4pm
Tickets $15

A deadly virus infects a small town, and a tiny radio station is under siege. The cult hit book and film, described by as “Talk Radio meets 28 Days Later,” appeared onstage for the first time anywhere in Strawdog’s Hugen Hall in 2012. The world premiere, not-to-be-missed production is back in 2014.

Jacob Alexander, Anita Deely, Nikki Klix
& Jamie Vann

One thought on “Review: Strawdog Theatre’s “Pontypool”

  1. Pingback: Q & A with Author/Playwright Tony Burgess |

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