"The horror... the horror -- Brraaappp!" No, it's not Heart of Darkness or Apocalypse Now, it's the Bug Theatre's treatment of George Romero's classic Night of the Living Dead. The line sums up the campy goodness that Director Kristine Hipps and cast bring to their quirky stage adaptation of the mother of all zombie movies.
Since Romero brought the dead back to life in 1968, zombies have gone through an evolution. Hell, the zombies in Zombieland, Dead Snow and the I am Legend remake move fast enough to get Olympic medals -- albeit tarnished, damaged, warped medals, but medals nonetheless. This evolution from toe-draggers to sprinters, as well as the world's love affair with the horror genre, have turned the screams elicited by the Night of the Living Dead's original screenings in drive-ins across the country into something that seems much goofier in retrospect. Hipps' reanimation of the classic basks in this trend, playing up the humor in the arthritic limb-droppers of yesteryear.
The play reanimates the characters from the classic horror flick in living color until the actors move off stage, then something special happens: The characters are transported back to their scratchy black-and-white counterparts via the wonder of film. Thus this live, not-live portrayal of the living dead brings a unique element to the play.
It allows Barbara, played by Krista Rayne Reckner, to run from a graveyard and cower behind a fire hydrant and then a mailbox (them's good hiding spots there) before finally running onstage. It's an interesting, playful mix.
"It really opens up our options and takes it beyond the boundaries of the stage," Hipps explains.
"This way we can put zombies in lakes and do explosions," asserts Alex Weimer a co-producer of the play/film hybrid.
"Doing the shoots is really fun. Bringing the screen in and out took the most planning--people seem to really like it," Hipps adds.
Now in its third year and with most of the original cast, this installation of the Night of the Living Dead has some tweaks, explains Duane Brown, the play's other co-producer. For instance, "We were able to add in a new scene at the beginning," he says. The opening attempts to explain Barbara's inexplicable encounter with a skull in the original movie. "Kris really wanted to explain that" this year, he says.
While this portrayal of Night of the Living Dead takes some liberties with the original movie -- and by some we mean a lot -- it remains true to form in Ben's character, portrayed by Joseph Graves (yes, his last name really is Graves), who says he was drawn to the character, among other things, because "The black man makes it to the end."
Reckner, who plays a zombied-out -- but still living -- Barbara, explains that she's "worked with Kristine before and loves zombies and vampires." She adds, "I try to be a monster every Halloween."
Asked what her favorite zombie movie is, Reckner responds says Shaun of the Dead -- she's also a big fan of 28 Days Later. Hipps and Graves answer almost before the question's finished -- Night of the Living Dead.
Despite the camp and the over-the-top characters, this play's still got a lot of heart, and you can't help but empathize with the characters as zombies creep up on them unawares -- till they get their hearts ripped out.
The play opens tomorrow, October 1, at 8 p.m. at the Bug Theatre, 3654 Navajo Street, and runs through October 30. Special Halloween showing on Sunday October 31 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 for general admission, $12 if you dress as a zombie. Call 303-477-9984 or visit www.bugtheatre.org for details.