Murderously Good NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD at Milburn Stone Theatre

by David Bradford

What would Halloween time in theatre be without the slate of horror, murder, and/or mystery plays and musicals that crop up. Milburn Stone Theatre, in North East, MD, followed up last Halloween’s smash production of Steven King’s CARRIE, by bringing to stage an original adaptation of George A. Romero’s classic 1968 horror flick, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. The adaptation, writen by the directors Bob Denton and Brandon T. Gorin, seems to faithfully follow the plot from the movie, but employs some interesting stagecraft to bring it to life.

First and foremost is the the extensive use of multimedia both as scenic backdrop and more often than not to advance the plot. The preshow contains a series of TV clips meant to depict an average TV viewing day and set the time period for the piece. Then, as the show opens, it switches to video clips showing the car of siblings Johnny (Alexander VanderLek) and Barbara (Joanna DiPaola) as they drive up a dirt road and into a cemetery in order to place flowers on their father’s grave. The video then switches to a video backdrop of the cemetery in front of which the live actors begin to play.

Following that scene, when the action switches to a farm house, video is projected onto the interior walls of the house at various times to accomplish a variety of tasks. At one point it is used to depict blood on the walls (no real spoiler here). In another, it is used to show a close-up of a character on stage. In several other instances, it is used to show the audience action which is taking place outside of the farmhouse. The remaining time, the video is used to show newscasts that the characters are watching on TV.

The use of multimedia continues during the intermission as news reports seek to further advance the plot line. It is even effectively used post-show to reinforce the ending.

By now you must be wondering why I am spending so much time talking about the multimedia presentation rather that the cast. Well,it is because the multimedia is clearly one of the leading players of the show. But fear not, it is but one of many talented players.

Among the most prominent of characters is Ben (Brandon Scott Boyd), a drifter who is caught up like the others in the life-threatening drama of a night when recently dead bodies have reanimated and are murdering the living and eating their flesh. Boyd has a commanding presence in the role and keeps the whole ensemble energized and moving forward. DiPaola in her role as Barbara, does a wonderful job portraying sheer panic, particularly when she first enters the farmhouse. Her motions as she desperately searches the farmhouse for….anything…to help her cope with the situation is like a 3 minute wordless soliloquy that clearly spells out the paralysis of fear.

While Ben uses his take-chage attitude to try to protect them, they discover five others hiding in the basement. Harry (John Mulvey), his wife Helen (Angela Teague), and daughter Karen (Rachael Jones) are there as well as young couple Tom (Charles Johnson) and Judy (Megan Julian). This sets the table for conflict as well as a representative display of the various ways people deal with crises.

Mulvey does a great job bringing his disagreeable cowardly character to life as does Teague with her seemingly more balanced response to the situation. Johnson’s Tom is a very likeable character. He is neither a leader nor a coward, but a guy willing to step in and do what is asked of him. Julian also does a great job with the innocent optimistic Judy. We don’t get to see too much of Jones’ Karen in action in the show, but what little we do is impressive.

One other mention goes out to the comic relief, Sherrif McClelland (Matthew Wolffe). His sterotypical small town sheriff using an emergency to make himself a big important figure is fun to watch.

And of course, how can we forget the title characters, the living dead. The make-up, costumes, and their unique ways of walking seems to elicit spontaneous applause each time they appear. Why not? After all, its all about them!

One critical note however. One of the characters in the show chain smokes. Whether the cigarettes used were real or non-nicotine substitutes, the cigarette smell was overpowering, even in that big of an auditorium. It became quite a distraction as myself, my companion, and indeed most everyone around us had either throat irritation or coughing or headache. While I understand the importance to the plot, the resulting effects on and concern among the audience got in the way of the show at times.Perhaps other substitutes should be considered.

Overall this is a fun show. Yes, I said fun! It is a campy look at the genre but not to the extent that ROCKY HORROR is, a complete spoof of bad horror movies. This adaptation of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD retains its serious side, while making the best of situational humor, with perhaps a nod to the total camp at the very end. But you will definitely laugh during this show. Also, it helps that it is, thankfully not as bloody and gory as I had imagined it would be.

It is unfortunate that it runs only this weekend. But if you should happen to read this review before the afternoon of November 2, pop over to Milburn Stone Theatre and check it out. It’s a fun way to wrap up the Halloween Holiday!

Adaption by Bob Denton and Brandon T. Gorin
Based on the classic horror film by George A. Romero
Direction by Bob Denton and Brandon T. Gorin
Scenic Projection Design by Bob Denton
Sound Design by Terry Edwards
Lighting Design by Tyler Bristow
Costume Design by Lindsay Ellis and Cynthia Wham
Make-up Design by Siobhan Beckett
Properties Design by Eyvo Johnson
October 31 – November 2, 2014
Milburn Stone Theatre
Cecil College
1 Seahawk Dr.
North East, MD

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