NW Cultural Center, 1819 NW Everett, 222-4480, Fri-Sat 10 pm, closes this weekend, $12-15
George Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968) is a bad movie made by a good filmmaker. Its dirty black and white film quality and shaky camerawork add a creepily realistic ambience to an otherwise uninspired narrative filled with cardboard characters and low-budget monsters. The current late-night stage adaptation by Theater Nocturne (an offshoot, interestingly, of NW Childrens Theater) fails to translate that gritty onscreen magic to a live setting, and so what remains are the bare bones of Romero's painfully dated--at least to this modern, desensitized critic--story.
To Theater Nocturne and director John Monteverde's credit, I'm not sure any theatrical production could do Living Dead justice. The only way I can see to transplant its jittery claustrophobia into a theatrical format is to create an interactive play, wherein the story occurs in and around the audience. Monteverde wisely has his zombies lurching up and down the aisles, but should have taken that impulse even farther; the play's main action centers far too heavily on the stage, driven by the immensely uninteresting plot.
Ultimately, Living Dead is just about some people hiding from zombies. There's an ass-kicking hero, Ben (Shuhe Hawkins), a pretty girl driven mad by her fear (Alexis Rhiannon), and some other people. Monteverde's production is loaded with cool gore effects and the zombies, designed by makeup designer Brooks Waldhart, look terrific. But all that admirable passion and energy is wasted on a dramatic script that tries to replicate a screenplay onstage instead of recontextualizing it in a live setting. In some sequences, the characters watch televised local news reports of the zombie attacks. The newscasts are basically cheap remakes of generic zombie movie outtakes, interspliced with anchorman Leif Norby. Out in the seats, it occurred to me I was basically watching scenes from a bad zombie movie in a staged adaptation of a bad zombie movie. "Why not just watch the movie?" I asked myself. Future auteurs of the burgeoning film-to-theater movement would do well to ask themselves the same thing.