By Owen Woods | email@example.com
NIGHT of the Living Dead Live presents to the audience a series of “if-onlys” while six strangers find themselves locked in a house surrounded by undead ghouls (just in time for the Halloween season). This modern, comical twist finds effective avenues to punch down the racism and misogyny of 1968, but at many points finds a way to delve into the dark realities of our society and how we look at violence. More importantly, every if-only that is presented provides an ounce of hope, but they are nothing more than lessons in futility.
Night of the Living Dead Live, originally written in 1968 by George A. Romero and Jack Russo, was faithfully adapted for the stage by Christopher Bond, Dale Boyer, Trevor Martin, Christopher Harrison, and Phil Pattison. John Taylor, Ph.D., served as director. The production was put on by the Adams State Theatre, School of Visual and Performing Arts, and in conjunction with AS&F.
The play, on its opening night, served a nearly packed crowd. The stark contrast between a group of people fighting for their lives in an undead pandemic, and those viewing it while living through the current pandemic was almost imperceivable.
“What a mess,” says the White Chief McClelland, played with heart and soul by Daniel Glover who serves as our meta-interpreter. The play on the surface is a mess, but a well-thought out mess. Panic and anger, high emotions and even higher stakes, a mix of cultures and perceptions, battling personalities, and an unknown force pushing and pulling on the strings of choice, give rise to a very personal look at our lives over the course of the past 19 months. While some of us, like Carson Leaf’s noble character Vince, are left to deal with the bodies. Leaf gives a wild-haired and animated performance as Tom, a keystone character who is hard to hate, and easy to love.
In 1968, though, times were different, right? The military and the science community pushed against one another, the media’s news cycle was constantly changing with each new drip of information, race and gender played a large role in how we all viewed each other, and we could somehow put aside our differences to overcome the larger problem at hand.
The play’s attempt to fix itself and address how to solve the human problem in the house came with different scenarios, all with the same outcome. The play at its heart is about the people inside. The zombies on the outside are there to motivate the living to their next steps, while also giving the audience a good laugh. The undead are just as alive as the people in the house, and the people in the house are just as dead inside as the ghouls outside. Harry Cooper’s near-sociopathic tendencies, and eventual ruthless murder of everyone, are delivered with a poignant and enthustiac sarcasm by Joaquin Rodriguez.
The if-onlys range from: if only they took shelter in the cellar; if only they had a leader who, instead of being black, was white; if only the women took over, and took charge; if only they acted like the undead; if only they tried to bring the undead back to life; if only they all had guns; if only they sacrificed themselves for the greater good; if only they all came together, putting their differences aside, and pushed back against the problem as one.
All of these scenarios resonate with the conversations being had every day. They make light of it all. They make sure to make the audience laugh, even after Ben, masterfully and wholeheartedly played by Elijah Harris, goes into the cellar and shoots a newly undead family without mercy. Or perhaps when they play hot potato with Helen’s head and spine. Bex Schmitt’s seamless performance as both Helen and Judy is so carefully done that I didn’t realize she plays both until the actors took their bows.
The final if-only takes a happier tone with a musical number that has a predictable tension behind it. The zombies creep in and shoot them all dead.
Barbara’s mild-mannered and careful reluctance to take part in everyone’s hair-brained attempts to survive are met with demise, as well. She simply wants to visit her father’s grave with her brother, and in a matter of seconds it all changes. Olivia Huffmaster’s quiet performance as Barbara gives the character a different personality from the original. Her demeanor is that of the shy and traumatized who go unnoticed all over the world.
Night of the Living Dead Live shows the audience how to laugh at our worldly problems for just a little while, but at the end of it all, sends us off with one final message: in the end, we’re all gonna die.
Information on the production:
By Linda Relyea
Adams State Communications
SIX strangers, a lonely farmhouse, surrounded by brain-eating zombies – what could go wrong?
Kicking off its 95th year, Adams State University Theatre presents Night of the Living Dead Live – a fun re-imagining of George Romero’s horror film. Tickets are now on sale at the ASU Theatre Box Office.
Set in 1968, the play is a horror parody of the classic zombie movie. Directed by John H. Taylor, Ph.D., chair of theater, the comedy re-creates live on stage the original film in the first act. In the second act, it presents a series of alternative endings which hilariously test the question: Can anyone survive a night of the living dead?
“After a year plus of going through a pandemic, it seems appropriate to me that we welcome back audiences into our theatre with a comical zombie apocalypse. Why not?” said Taylor.
As in the film, the threat is not from only outside of the farmhouse in which the characters are hiding. It is inside the home. The real conflict is between those in the house as they argue and fight among themselves. To survive, they must work together or they will perish at the hands of the living dead. In playing out a series of comical “what ifs,” this comedy shows the challenges of defeating zombies.
Taylor adds: “For fans of the original movie, I hope they find our work to be a loving tribute to it. In fact, this script is officially authorized by the Romero family. If you have not seen the 1968 film, you will still find the evening to be full of frights and laughs.”
If You Go
Public performances of Night of the Living Dead Live are scheduled for Sept. 24 and 25, and Oct. 1 and 2 at 7:30 p.m. A matinee performance at 2 p.m. is scheduled for Oct. 3. All shows are at SLV Federal Bank Main Stage Theatre at Adams State.
Tickets are $10 for general public, $9 for seniors and students, and free to associated students and faculty with current Adams State identification. The production is recommended for ages 12 and older.
All audience members are required to wear masks while inside of the Theatre Building. The box office number is 719-587-8499.