Open Circle Theater, 429 Boren Ave N, 325-6500. Thurs-Sat at 8, Sun at 7; $12. Through Nov 18.

THE MIXED-GENRE farce has become a staple of sketch comedy by exquisitely indulging the audience's desire to be in on the joke. But audience familiarity is a two-edged sword. As anyone who has ever considered suicide during a long Saturday Night Live sketch will confirm, getting the basic joke right away puts even more pressure on keeping things moving.

Sunken mixes kitchen-sink drama and zombie movies, an admirable pairing of emotional tedium and gonzo violence. Lyam White's plot conjoins the problems of flesh-eating and a troubled son's suicidal depression, and the dysfunctional family works through their issues while disemboweling packs of ravenous undead. The way actors like Jeremy Young light up when they get to stop talking to people and start attacking them points toward the genre preferred by the ensemble, one that will no doubt be shared by the audience. While the stage combat is universally horrid, Skot Kurruk's deep-throating of an entire cat nearly makes the show.

But a killer concept and several strong throwaway bits can't save a play that screams for more time in the laboratory. White builds his narrative by adding characters, crowding the stage with living plot complications so dull that the zombies come as a relief. Unpacking this much back-story would challenge the finest comedic ensemble; it slaughters the strained efforts of this one. Worst of all are needless set changes and elaborate setups that sacrifice comedic payoffs for even more exposition. It's a story about a man not quite ready to die; the flashes of intensity that bubble up from below Sunken's dreary surface indicate a decent play that has yet to be born.