Adapted for the stage by Gus Krieger, George A. Romero’s 1968 film, “Night of the Living Dead” is just in time for a spooky Halloween treat. Directed by Drina Durazo, the original zombie movie brings just the right amount of scary and – by 2019 standards – silly to the Group Rep stage in the Lonny Chapman Theatre. Survival is the operative word here as seven strangers join together for the most frightening night of their lives. The key troubling question: will they live to see the dawn?
Where would any self-respecting horror tale begin? In a graveyard, of course. Barbara (Kate Faye) and Johnny (Sean Faye) have come to a cemetery outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to pay their respects to their uncle on the anniversary of his death – little suspecting that their journey will turn into the most terrifying moments of their lives. When some blood-soaked zombies emerge from the dark to shamble over and begin to bite, bite, bite, a frightened, near-catatonic Barbara runs for her life. Happily, there happens to be a farmhouse conveniently located nearby. There she meets Ben (Marc Antonio Pritchett), and the two must make plans if they are to live through the night. Hidden in the basement is another group (Ashkhan Aref, Lisa McGee Mann, Kaia Mann, Cameron Kauffman, Matthew Jayson Cwern) fleeing for their lives. When the two sets of strangers discover each other, lots of friction erupts. Seven people equal seven opinions – and elusive teamwork may be the only way to come out ahead.
But the real stars of the show may just be the 14 ghoulish zombies weaving in and out of the theater – perhaps created by just a little too much exposure to radiation? It is the Cold War, after all. Kudos to costume designer Angela M. Eads and makeup designer Julia Hapney, who make the living dead scary indeed. Added praise for set designers Winfield and Durazo for a beautifully configured set which has just the right number of doors, windows, and cubby-holes to stash lots of the undead. Along with authentic 1960’s props adding to the ambiance. And let’s not forget lighting by Douglas Gabrielle and sound by Kenny Harder. On top of that, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD has some original music to up the ante, along with fight sequences designed and developed by Pritchett, who also brings Ben to life. As an homage to the film, news broadcasts were recreated, filmed, and projected onto the stage, courtesy of video editor Matthew Herrier, who worked hard to get the 1960’s feel to the footage.
All in all, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is the perfect ensemble piece with clever contributions by everyone involved in the show. Despite themes of nihilism, societal breakdown, and other ideas explored by Romero’s motion picture, it’s pretty clear that the current cast and crew are having lots of fun. The audience will certainly find the piece entertaining. This is family fun – but make sure that the kids are old enough to appreciate the creepy, chilling, and often menacing efforts of the Group Rep.
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD runs through November 10, 2019, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays (special performances at 8 p.m. on Wednesday 10/30 and Thursday 10/31). The Lonny Chapman Theatre is located at 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601. Tickets are $25 (seniors and students $20). For information and reservations, call 818-763-5990 or go online.