by Hannah Bisewski
A note to the nervous: Weird City Theatre’s Night of the Living Dead will have you clenching the edge of your seats, squinting into the darkness to see if a zombie is lumbering in your direction. Director John Carroll’s arrangement of the performance space at the Dougherty Arts Center manipulates spectators to facilitate that sense of terror. A runway extends from the traditional proscenium, separating the audience down the middle and leading to a smaller stage behind them. More than once an actor rose from the dark and terrified someone in the back row with unexpected contact.George Romero’s 1968 black-and-white zombie film provides the story. Almost all of the dialogue in the Weird City’s staging comes directly from the film, so fans will appreciate familiar lines with expressions idiosyncratic of the era.
From the first moment the atmosphere is that of a bone-chilling, midnight graveyard, swirling in fog, glowing under black lights and alive with heart-stoppingly eerie ambient sounds. An obviously human form sits in a downstage chair, covered by a blood-stained blanket. This ransacked interior will soon become the hideout of the surviving characters.
The action is as fast-paced as the film, and before long zombies are clawing at the Laffy Taffy innards of characters we meet only briefly.
The chills go down a bit after the intermission, as the focus shifts to the stressful entanglements of the refugees and the conflicting messages of ill-fated newscasters. Missed cues and dropped lines lowered the energy of the Saturday night performance, but gradually the tension rose once again. Zombies ambled comically in the background of the living room, staring down the remaining survivors. The nervous, creepy atmosphere of the opening builds to violent, overwhelming horror as zombies overwhelm the final few survivors.
Weird City Theatre Company will keep you transfixed to the very end of this Night of the Living Dead, even if you’re familiar with the classic film. This dedicated cast brings live dramatic irony to celluloid fantasies. You’ll feel tremendous relief to see the last of that hoard of zombies mosey out of the theatre.