Review: ‘Night of the Living Dead’

Scripter Leon Shanglebee has slavishly adapted the screenplay for George A. Romero's 1968 classic horror pic, "Night of the Living Dead," to the stage with near disastrous results. Lacking the film's horrifically captivating visual effects, Romero's sparse, terror-driven dialogue does not supply enough thematic content and continuity to drive this legiter.

Scripter Leon Shanglebee has slavishly adapted the screenplay for George A. Romero’s 1968 classic horror pic, “Night of the Living Dead,” to the stage with near disastrous results. Lacking the film’s horrifically captivating visual effects, Romero’s sparse, terror-driven dialogue does not supply enough thematic content and continuity to drive this legiter. Shanglebee and helmer Christian Levatino fail to fill in the huge dramatic gaps as the onstage ensemble members are often left to chaotically flail about, performing meaningless and redundant bits of business until the next plot point is reached.

As in the film, the action revolves around the mysterious reanimation of recently deceased New England folk into carnivorous ghouls and the efforts of strangers Ben (Mancini Graves), Barbara (Sierra Fisk) and five others to survive the night while trapped in a rural Pennsylvania farmhouse. The opening scene devouring of her brother Johnny (Levatino) has rendered Fisk’s Barbara catatonic and useless as an interactive character, leaving Grave’s Ben to spend a lot of time shouting at no one in particular while racing about boarding up the doors and windows, occasionally smashing invading ghouls with a tire iron.

Much needed plot exposition is finally supplied by a radio announcer, (prerecorded Bob Mitsch) while Ben and Barbara just stare at one another in various states of angst. The only variation on the theme is the constant awareness of shuffling off-stage bodies and the occasionally evocative, mostly annoying prerecorded music of Dave Holden.

The second half of the play is slightly enlivened by the emergence of the five people who have been hiding in the cellar, including a couple of young locals, Tom (Mike Flowers) and Judy (Laura Liguori). Adding to the mix are the relentlessly contentious businessman Harry Cooper (Trent Hopkins), his embittered chain-smoking wife Helen (Erin Cummings) and their injured young daughter Karen (Sofia Boronkay).

Shanglebee’s script underscores the factious infighting between Ben and Tom for control of the group but relies on TV broadcasts to fill in the remaining plot points, highlighted by comically inept exchanges between a newscaster (Jonathan L. Burbridge), scientist Dr. Grimes (Rob Saunders) and police chief McClelland (Morgan Strauss). They supply the information that the zombie mutations might have been caused by radiation from a failed U.S. space venture and must be destroyed immediately.

The most impressive aspect of the production is the dead-on re-creation of the Pennsylvania farmhouse by Luis Lara and Roger C. Ambrose, complemented by the mood-enhancing lighting of Fontaine and Alex Knudsen. The inventive makeup variations supplied by Matt Heffner, Marky Andrews and Pauline Noriega are properly ghoulish.

Night of the Living Dead

Stella Adler Theater, Hollywood; 99 seats; $20 top

Production

A Gangbusters Theater presentation of a play in one act, adapted by Leon Shanglebee from a film by George A. Romero. Directed by Christian Levatino.

Creative

Sets, Luis Lara, Roger C. Ambrose; lighting, Fontaine and Alex Knudsen; sound, Michael Flowers; music, Dave Holden; makeup, Matt Heffner, Marky Andrews, Pauline Noriega; stage manager, Jan Plank. Opened Oct. 26, 2006. Reviewed Oct. 27. Runs through Dec. 3. Running time: 1 HOUR, 15 MINS.

Cast

Johnny - Christian Levatino Barbara - Sierra Fisk Ben - Mancini Graves Tom - Mike Flowers Judy - Laura Liguori Harry Cooper - Trent Hopkins Helen Cooper - Erin Cummings Karen - Sofia Boronkay Dr. Grimes - Rob Saunders McClelland - Morgan Strauss

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