Let’s admit it: Ghouls just want to have fun. Rorschach Theatre’s production of Night of the Living Dead Live provides all the fun any committed ghoul — or ghoul lover — could want. With elements from The Rocky Horror Show, Fargo, Groundhog Day, and the original movie from which it is adapted, this production is one long, comforting joke tailor-made for the Halloween season.
Taking off from the cult 1960s classic film about seven people trapped in a rural farmhouse during a zombie apocalypse, this stage version imagines what might have happened if the living humans had made different choices. For example, what if they had cooperated the way evolved, sensible, civilized people might do? What if instead of belittling the women, the group had respected women’s leadership and utilized it? Might things have turned out differently?
Please. What we really want is jump scares, grotesque deaths, screams, and more blood. And if we could be kept informed of the progress of our zombie apocalypse by a television broadcast, that would be good, too. This production does not disappoint in any of these areas.
The Rorschach production team has taken the rural farmhouse of the movie, upped the ante of its artificiality — by such effects as landscaping it with astroturf, covering broken windows with pseudo-wooden panels that attach with magnets — and placed the entire construction inside two floors of an empty urban office building, making full use of the possibilities of the site’s ghostly anonymity. Getting in or getting out of the venue is disorienting (though not in a dangerous way; there are signs and helpers at every turn). The production feels like it’s taking place in an amusement park funhouse: disturbingly confusing and safe at the same time. (And there’s a nicely stocked bar that you can access before, during intermission, and after the show.)
Frank Labovitz (set design), Gordon Nimmo-Smith (sound design), Emma E. Smith (lighting design), and Andrew Reilly (props) all do excellent work on this show. Costume designer Julie Cray Leong’s clothing is especially effective in evoking the 1960s images of women as either mindless, silly sex toys (think: Jane Fonda in Barefoot in the Park) or man-dominating harridans (think: Elizabeth Taylor in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf).
Karina Hilleard, Sydney Dionne, and Mollie Greenberg were the women in the cast, charged with executing the most extreme gender-role statements. They each carried off their parts pointedly and accurately. James Stringer Jr., Adrian Jesus Iglesias, Andrew Quilpa, Taylor Stevens, Erik Harrison, and Ivan Carlo as the men were suitably dense. Zombies are not known for their style or taste. Here, they were faithfully embodied by Andrew Huff, doing double duty as the character Ernie Caldwell.
Night of the Living Dead Live is so silly and so much fun. I would not recommend it for children, but it is a great show to see with a group of adult friends: especially in these cold, dark seasons — both climatological and social — that we are now entering. What a comfort it is, after all, to be in a space where the only blood our monsters can draw from us is made of red cloth and paint. What a relief when our mistakes in judgment do not have deadly consequences.
Running Time: Approximately two hours including one 15-minute intermission.
Night of the Living Dead Live plays through November 19, 2023 (Thursdays through Sundays), presented by Rorschach Theatre performing at Washington Square, 1020 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, DC (near the Farragut North Metro Station). Purchase tickets ($30–$45) online. Discounts, including information about limited $10 tickets, can be found here.
The program for Night of the Living Dead Live is online here.
COVID Safety: At this time masks are optional for audience members, staff, and artists. All staff and artists have been vaccinated. Vaccination checks are not required for audience members. We will continue to monitor and follow guidelines and recommendations from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and DC Health (DCH). Our COVID-19 Safety Practices & Policies are continually being refined to ensure a safe, clean, comfortable experience for everyone, and practices and plans will be updated as circumstances and guidelines change.
Night of the Living Dead Live
Adapted from George A. Romero’s film by Christopher Bond, Dale Boyer, and Trevor Martin. Created by Christopher Harrison and Phil Pattison, “Work Together” written by Christopher Bond, Jamie Lamb, and Trevor Martin
Directed by Lilli Hokama
BEN: James Stringer Jr.
CHIEF MCCLELLAND: Adrian Jesus Iglesias
VINCE: Andrew Quilpa
BARBRA: Mollie Greenberg
JOHNNY: Taylor Stevens
HARRY: Erik Harrison
TOM: Ivan Carlo
HELEN: Karina Hilleard
JUDY: Sydney Dionne
ERNIE CALDWELL / ZOMBIES: Andrew Huff
Understudies: Sarah Millard, Tony Lemus, Kara Turner, Axandre Oge
TB Broadcast Cast:
NEWSCASTER: Tommy McFly
NANCY: Jenny Frederick
BLACK HAND: Germar Townsend
Set Design: Frank Labovitz
Costume Design: Julie Cray Leong
Video Design: Kylos Brannon
Sound Design: Gordon Nimmo-Smith
Lighting Design: Emma E. Smith
Props Design: Andrew Reilly
Choreography: Robb Hunter (Fight Director)
Robert Bowen Smith (Assistant Fight Director and Choreographer)
Stage Management: Breanna Dunbar (Stage Manager)
Natasha Sánchez (Assistant SM)