at the Maverick Theater
Director Brian Newell attacks Lori Allen Ohm's stage version of George Romero's groundbreaking cheapie 1968 horrorfest with the same single-minded intensity as does the story's hero, Ben, or as do its army of zombies. It pays off in a brief but bracing hour of stage time that provides the same fright equivalent as an elaborate Halloween haunted house constructed in a neighbor's garage. The gruesome shocks and thrills just keep on comin' in an adaptation of Romero and John Russo's screenplay that works around the limitations of having the story unfold almost completely indoors, without sacrificing too many of the most powerful moments.
Newell's ingenious set design pivots between the main room of the farmhouse, where seven characters are trapped by the radioactivity-activated flesh-eating zombies, and the home's basement, while his sound design uses dramatic musical underscoring to punch up the narrative. Sure, it's all campy fun, but Newell keeps it gripping. Scott Johnson is a purposeful, forceful Ben, who brandishes a rifle with ease and becomes the group's leader when it is clear he's the only one able to think on his feet in a crisis. As Barbara, in 1960s 'do and garb, Amanda Hatch matches her film counterpart, Judith O'Dea, in vulnerability, shrinking away from the horror, yet not entirely helpless. As young couple Tom and Judy, Robert Downs and Jax DiBenedetto appeal to us through honest emotions, rather than bowling us over with overacting. Stan Morrow substitutes Harry's edgy, scheming selfishness for whiny weakness, and Julie Hommel likewise softens Harry's wife's unlikability. For most, though, the attraction is the zombies, and audiences won't be disappointed: In makeup convincingly done by Lindsey Wayne, Beatriz Munoz, and Stephen Sands, they're lumbering, persistent, and omnipresent. Newell, Brady Miller, Jim Book, and Jason Chavez create credible special and technical effects, and DiBenedetto, Heidi Newell, and Katie Sapp's costumes suit the era of Romero's now-classic chiller.
Presented by and at the Maverick Theatre, 110 E. Walnut, Fullerton. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m. (Also 8 p.m. Oct. 26, 29, 30, 31). Oct. 6-Nov. 4. (714) 526-7070.
Reviewed by Eric Marchese