Stage Preview: Night of the Living Dead

In a previous post, I mentioned that George A. Romero's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD was coming to the Stella Adler Theatre in Hollywood as a stage play. The production officially opens on Thursday, October 26, but two "preview" performances were scheduled for this weekend on Saturday and Sunday. The Saturday preview was canceled to give the Gangbusters Theatre Company more time to fine-tune their presentation. I attended the Sunday afternoon preview, which turned out to be more of a dress rehearsal, with not all of the props, pyrotechnics, and lighting effects quite ready.

Since this was only a dress rehearsal, I will not review the performance, but I will try to give you a glimpse of what to expect on Thursday. Essentially, this is the movie ripped out of the camera and thrust onto the stage, much of the dialogue recreated word for word. For the most part, the transition is an easy one, since the majority of the story takes place within the confines of a single location, the isolated house.

There are a few tombstones set up to the left of the audience for the opening scene between Johnny (director Christian Levatino) and Barbara (Sierra Fisk) in the cemetery. After the action moves inside, there is a clever stage set-up that includes a rotating section to represent the basement: the wall facing the audience includes the door downstairs; when the action moves to the basement, that section spins around, revealing the basement section of the set.

For the remaining action outside, the production will resort to "security cameras," which will televise what's happening beyond the walls of the besieged house (such as the famous deaths of Tom and Judy). These were not in place on Sunday, but there was a monitor to show the various news broadcasts that fill the characters in on details of the living dead phenomenon.

Although the presentation on Sunday was, inevitably, a rough first attempt, the performances were solid, and the story seems to have potential as a live play. Because we remember the movie's shambling ghouls so well, it's easy to overlook the fact that the movie is a pressure cooker situation about a small group of people thrown together by adversity who fail to unite their forces and save themselves. This narrative provides that backbone that supports the stage version.

Without the security cameras to display the zombie action outside, the play's emphasis seemed to be even more on the dramatic conflict between the characters trying to deal with the situation. Besides fixing the technical problems and honing the timing, the Gangbusters company just needs to ramp up the horror to match the sparks that fly between Ben and Mr. Cooper. If they pull it off, it will be a real Halloween treat.

The play is scheduled for October 26 through December 3 at the Stella Adler Theatre - 6773 Hollywood Blvd, 2nd floor, Hollywood, CA 90028.