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December 13, 2011 > Theater Review: Night of the Living Dead puts B back in zombie

Theater Review: Night of the Living Dead puts B back in zombie

Submitted By Jay Coleman

While many high schools stick with standard favorites for their productions - Little Shop of Horrors, Oklahoma, Guys and Dolls, etc. - Washington High School (WHS) decided this fall to walk on the wild side. Or should I say stagger on the wild side?

The result is the WHS Performing Arts Club's version of the classic 1968 horror film Night of the Living Dead, which runs through December 17. Lori Allen Ohm's play is adapted from the cult classic film, and WHS director/drama instructor Matt Ballin has further toned down the gore for family audiences. He's even added a good dose of humor and schmaltz, right down to the hilarious curtain call.

"We focused most of last year on Romeo and Juliet, so we were looking for something different this year," Ballin explains. "I'm not a big fan of the horror genre, but zombies are so prevalent these days - from the TV show The Walking Dead to lookalikes at Occupy Wall Street - that I thought this would be a good way to bring more kids into the theater program and have a lot of fun at the same time."

The WHS doesn't try to scare the bejeebers out of you with special effects, but it effectively mixes its share of the spooky walking undead with an injection of humor and campy performances in true B movie style. In short, WHS puts the B back in zombie.

The play closely follows the George Romero movie, which takes place in Butler County, Pennsylvania in 1968. A radioactive meteor smashes in a remote area, and bizarre things begin to happen.

Johnny and his sister Barbara are in a cemetery, placing a wreath on their father's grave. Night-time is falling, and Johnny teases Barbara that the ghouls are coming for her. Before you can say foreshadowing, a zombie appears and attacks Barbara before Johnny saves her. As Barbara runs away, she sees her brother's lifeless body.

Barbara escapes to a nearby farm house, where a stranger, Ben, successfully fights off several walking corpses and boards up the door and windows. Ben, it turns out, is pretty good at bashing zombies in the head, shooting them and setting them on fire - all good defenses against zombies that are worth noting for anyone in that predicament.

Ben and Barbara eventually discover that five people have taken refuge in the cellar: Harry and Helen Cooper, and their 11-year-old daughter, Karen, and a young couple, Judy and Tom. Harry tries to convince Ben that the cellar is a safer location - only one way in or out, compared to the multiple windows and doors upstairs where the zombies can attack. Ben adamantly prefers the living room. Soon, the tension inside the house begins to mirror the threats outside, where the handful of zombies has now grown to dozens.

How long can they fend off the ghouls? Who will be the next victim? Will anyone survive? You'll have to see the fast-moving, 1-hour show to know for sure.
Director Ballin's young cast - several are freshmen and/or performing in their first WHS play - showed some inexperience on opening night, but maintained great spirits in handling the cult classic - frequently with just the right mix of guffaws and gruesomeness.

Josh Laquian carries the heaviest acting load as Ben, who's onstage the majority of the time, often with lengthy monologues. He's the stable influence when all around him seem to be going as crazy as the crazies outside.

As Barbara, Claire Castren has the challenge of sitting onstage for long periods of time in a state of shock and disbelief over the attack on Johnny and the ghouls outside.

Andrew Choi plays Harry Cooper with a good deal of frustration and rage. He's more concerned with protecting his family in the cellar than helping Ben upstairs, but is a big help lobbing Molotov cocktails at the zombies when Tom and Ben try to escape the house for help. Molly Tapken gave one of the most credible performances as Helen Cooper, the concerned mother who's focused on her too-quiet daughter, Karen.

While there clearly is some graphic violence that is too intense for small children, Night of the Living Dead also has some truly funny dialogue. In one scene, TV news reporter Bill Bardough (Patrick Bacon) asks Butler County Sheriff Connie McClellan (Vanessa Steger) if the zombies are slow moving. "Yeah," McClellan replies, "they're dead."

Make-up designer Jenna Lemmon and her crew of eight make-up artists deserve special credit for bringing the cast of 25 mostly undead students to life, so to speak, with buckets of realistic-looking blood and gore. And the lighting and sound teams took advantage of the revamped, 110-seat Husky Theater to deliver a solid show that's heavily dependent on precise special effects.

All in all, Night of the Living Dead is a quick, quirky show and a credit to Ballin and the WHS team for taking a bold chance with a seldom-produced show. If you don't have a good time at this show, you should check your pulse.

Tickets are $12 general admission, $10 ASB students and $6 for those under 12 and over 65. Due to some graphic violence, this production is NOT recommended for young children. Tickets may be purchased online at www.whstheater.com.

Night of the Living Dead
December 8, 9, 15, 16 and 17
7 p.m.
Washington High School
38442 Fremont Blvd., Fremont
www.whstheater.com

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