Community Theatre Produces “Night of the Living Dead”

Last night, Elsa, Eyegore and myself settled into the seats of a community theatre and were treated to an evening of flesh-eating ghouls. I, for one, had an ABSOLUTE BLAST! The Dearborn Heights Civic Theatre just finished their run of Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” live onstage and we caught the last performance. The evening was emotional for the three of us because we first met up several decades ago at a community theatre. The unmistakeable ambience provided by scavenged props, hastily constucted sets, awkward lighting cues and actors with more zeal than acting talent brought us back to our pre-snob days, a heavy dose of bittersweet nostalgia.

You know the script, or at least if you’re a devoted reader of you *should* know the script. DHCT used a pretty faithful adaptation of Romero’s classic. It’s in the public domain afterall, right? just like Shakespeare.

Adapting a screenplay for the stage is tricky business even for skilled professionals and to be honest, some elements worked better than others. The opening was particularly effective, with Johnny and Barbara winding their way through a row of the theatre as if it was a cemetery. The line “Which row is it?” was particularly charming and I think they could have camped this moment up a bit, examining theatre goers as if they were headstones. The zombies also made their entrance through the auditorium as well which gave a nice sense of theatre in the round.

But screenplays tend to have lots of short scenes and different sets which are a problem for the stage. In particular, the scenes in the basement were often too short to warrant the scene change — a cool bit of stagecraft as a wall of the set pivoted around to reveal the staircase, a rather involved transformation that the crew handled generally quite well. No way around it short of a re-write, however.

What I really enjoyed was the opportunity to witness the script in a different setting from the original production. The part played by Barbara, for instance, is very problematic in the original since a realistic depiction of someone going into shock is an odd spectacle to say the least. Intriguing at best but not exactly interesting. Barbara in this production made different choices and though I can’t claim she brought the character to life — an impossible task, IMHO — she successfully presented “Barbara” without looking like a babbling idiot, even though the script verges on such a depiction.

I was also struck by the relevance of the piece’s political subtext as I watched it mere days away from the 2012 election. Cooper, the reactionary middle-aged white guy who exhorts everyone to go back down in the cellar, could very well have worn a Romney mask, in my opionion. And Ben, the take-charge pro-active yet doomed token black character could have worn an Obama mask… or at least those characteristic ears.

The ending was changed slightly so the zombies kill and eat ALL the human characters, including the police, before casting their ravenous gaze upon the audience. A nice moment.

I could raise criticisms about the piece, but dammit, “Night of the Living Dead” was something fresh for a community theatre to do, and from my perspective, they pulled it off. It wasn’t just another production of “The Music Man” so they couldn’t just re-cycle the standard bag of tricks. Dearborn Heights Civic Theatre at least attempted a work of horror / supernatural drama, something far outside the typical box of musical comedy. That fact alone lured the three of us snobs back to a suburban black-box theatre to re-live a bit of our shared past. An enjoyable excuse for an excursion and a quite entertaining evening.

I was left asking myself, Why didn’t WE ever think of doing this?

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One Response to Community Theatre Produces “Night of the Living Dead”

  1. dxmarc says:

    This is Marc Walentowicz, the director of the show. Thank you for the kind words and the write-up. Greatly appreciated.