For the last 12 years, the Maverick Theater has put on their staging of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. However, this year’s is the first since the original creator of the film, George A. Romero, died last July.
As I sat and watched Night of the Living Dead this year, two thoughts struck me:
1) How amazing it is that a 12-year-old show is still so wildly successful and sells out so quickly every year.
2) How amazing it is that the Romero’s story, upon which the play is based, seems every bit as relevant, if not even more poignant, in its condemnation of the deep rooted prejudices that ultimately lead to the characters self-destruction.
But once again, I am ahead of myself…
Brian Newell and his amazing regional treasure, the Maverick Theater, have become the Rankin-Bass of live Orange County productions. Every year, when they bring back their series of holiday classics, there is a large and loyal fanbase ready to buy out the entire run…usually in a day or two. This means scoring a ticket to these coveted shows has become harder every year (I cannot stress this enough, make sure you buy your tickets to the upcoming quirky Plan 9 from Outer Space and the always hilarious Santa Claus Conquers The Martians as soon as they go on sale).
Dramatic and chilling for Halloween & campy and wonderfully ridiculous for Christmas, these staged adaptations are all throwbacks to the late 50’s early 60’s while retaining the vibe of the era. NOTLD however stands alone as the dramatic offering in the yearly series, and still surprises, scares, and entertains. The sets and script have not changed, but the cast has, and remarkably, the actual “telling” of the tale has changed. Some years, the character of Ben seems more concerned with keeping the line of authority in the house clear, while others he just seems more concerned with overall survival. Some years, Harry seems more driven by his cowardice and inferiority, some years he seems like the only voice of reason and has a better understanding the impossible odds the group seems to be facing.
George Romero has always claimed that the story was a direct lift (sans vampires) of the book I Am Legend. The racial conflict which seems to drive most of the tension in the story was not intentional, as the character of Ben was originally intended to be played by a white actor. Intentional or not, the movie stands as a very strong reminder that we have so far to go in terms of all kinds of equality. The violent conflicts which seem to be occurring with ever alarming frequency in our country, paired with the galvanized extremes in ideology, may actually be taking us further backwards rather than forward.
This years cast strikes a wonderfully balanced blend that makes it hard to root for Team Ben or Team Harry. Faced with the overwhelming terror and threat to life, both so sure their plans to avoid to the danger are the only viable options for survival, you see the micro-society within the farmhouse splinter. The group eventually makes rash decisions about unknown risks, and ultimately everyone pays the price for the lack of communication, understanding, and cooperation.
Just as Romero didn’t originally intend the movie to directly touch these topics, I know that the season for the Maverick was planned long before the turmoil of the last year started to erupt. Yet I find some comfort in the fact that the artists and work on the stage continue to hold the mirror up to our society, and that Night of The Living Dead on stage is able to still pinch those nerves the right way.
If you can get on the waiting list or even score a seat on the stairs, don’t miss it.
For more information, visit the Maverick Theater online at: http://www.mavericktheater.com