The NEO Theatre Experience jumps right into meaty territory with its second season opener, presenting an immersive experience that celebrates the iconic 1968 George A. Romero film's 50th anniversary.
MIAMI – What could be a home in rural Anytown, U.S.A. transforms into a platform of nightmares where the dead walk and morality is anything but black and white in the NEO world premiere of 'Night of the Living Dead' adapted for the stage by Aaron Smith.
The NEO Theatre Experience jumps right into meaty territory with its second season opener, presenting an immersive experience that celebrates the iconic1968 George A. Romero film's 50th anniversary.
Co-directed by Phillip Shamblin and Smith, 'Night of the Living Dead' is a direct take on the film, which should prove to be a particular delight for fans of the classic.
A group of strangers finds themselves stranded together in an abandoned home after a series of mundane events is interrupted by the sudden emergence of zombie-like hordes that leaves them trapped and forced to face the murderous hunger of the undead. And each other.
The ensemble cast is never overbearing, presenting almost matter-of-factly all of the horrors unfolding around them. Like the film, the stage production lulls the audience with familiarities that builds increasingly unsettling with deeper connotations of what exactly it means to be "normal" or "good".
With survival at stake, each of the primary characters embodies some of the most fundamentally conditioned responses to trauma and fear - denial, stalwartness, selfishness, grief, naive optimism, and blind faith in authority.
Standouts in the production are Lexie Wellman as Helen Cooper, who deftly portrays the conflict of a woman bound in an unhappy marriage by a sense of duty and love for her only child while navigating the very worst of her husband's reaction to the zombie crisis. A clear amplification of his selfishness that has strained their marriage.
Wellman easily evokes the frustration and impotence of Helen while staying true to the manicured disposition of a woman of her time - ever dutiful and present in spite of all that comes to pass.
Next is Trinity Pruitt as Barbara, one of the two siblings who opens the story with a graveside visit with her brother Johnny that ends in the most unexpected of tragedies.
Pruitt's performance is important not to overlook between the screams and long spells of silence. Her portrayal of shock and descent into a disassociated type of madness is incredibly genius in its subtlety and does the character great justice.
The set is also a tool of function and hidden depth, oddly familiar yet disconcerting. The setting of a multi-level farmhouse is condensed in a way that invites the audience in for a more intimate look while managing scene changes that manage not to be disruptive to the experience.
From all sides, the ghoulish undead fill the side lanes of the auditorium throughout the performance to create a sense of hyper-vigilance allowing the audience to step into the shoes of the characters trapped inside the farmhouse.
The lighting is washed out and grim like the circumstances, and the cast of the undead costumed well. It is easy to imagine their transformation from people we would encounter day-to-day, to those that now mindlessly look to devour others.
The October premiere works not only to mark the 50th anniversary for the film but fits right in with the Holloween season and the current national climate of political tension and uncertainty.
There is a lot to explore here, and the NEO cast provides plenty of room for that, carrying on the tradition of the film which has remained a think piece for half a century.
Night of the Living Dead' at NEO will have four showings through the weekend, Thursday and Friday, Oct. 25-26 at 7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 27-28 at 2 p.m.
Admission is free for NEO students and staff, $10 for adults, and $5 for persons 18 and under. Cash and checks at the NEO Fine Arts box office.
To learn more and stay up to date with NEO Theatre Experience visit http://theatre.neo.edu or the Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/theatreexperience/.
Dorothy Ballard is the managing news editor for the Miami News-Record. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @dm_ballard.