|Night of the Living Dead
110 E. Walnut Ave., Fullerton
Sold out, except for performances
Oct. 29-Nov. 3
Zombies have walked certain back streets of Fullerton for the last six Octobers. That we know. Keeping those dead lively and interesting is part of the job for the company at the Maverick Theater. And at no point has it been a bigger job than this time around.
With an almost entirely new cast, Maverick founder – and Night of the Living Dead director – Brian Newell was tasked with the tricky job of keeping his long-running holiday hit play a dark pleasure for the fans who keep coming back, but also not changing the chemistry so much that it turns them off.
Now we can report: The zombies rule again.
Changes in the cast or in the play itself – based on the George Romero B-movie horror classic – have occurred over the years and always kept the production fresh. For its seventh annual run, however, only the script and set remained. A few of the company’s regular players also joined the production or moved up into larger roles, helping keep a sense of continuity to the production overall.
The story, for those who don’t know it well already, follows a group of people trapped in a Pennsylvania farmhouse as zombies slowly engulf them.
For the first time, there is a strong sense that the story is taking place, like the original movie, in the year 1968. Previous runs of the play tended to only hint at the mood and disillusionment of the late 1960s. While racism is famously absent from the movie and was originally not addressed in the play, the vulnerability of new lead David P. Lewis as Ben pitted against Maverick stock player David Chorley as Ben’s main non-zombie foil, Harry, capture a new chemistry. There is a growing tension through the course of the story that effectively mirrors a sense of black and white tensions during the civil rights movement.
It adds an interesting and fresh element for devotees of the play, while the uninitiated will just love the zombies.
Hannah Butcher moves the character of Barbara back somewhere between the virtually catatonic original and the tortured soul Julie Patzer brought to the role last year. Neither helpless nor overpowering, Barbara is the right fit for the production’s new sense of place and time.
The reasons to come back and see Night of the Living Dead are the same as always: It’s a fast, engaging and visceral thrill unlike pretty much any other play you’ll see and a sweet holiday treat that Halloween lovers should make a tradition. But if you still need more, the new cast offers a reminder that the real world outside the farmhouse was almost as harsh and scary as the fantasy world trying to break in and eat them alive.