There aren't many ways you can muck up a stage adaptation of Night of the Living Dead, George A. Romero's 1968 horror flick about some folks hiding out in a farmhouse while flesh-eating zombies overrun their rural town. Still, going into the Maverick Theater I had a few concerns, chiefly that the cast would be all serious-like, and not in the good way, like I-brake-for-Ibsen serious; but over-serious, high-school-thessspian-serious: the kind of serious that makes you embarrassed for the actors who don't realize the audience never expected them to be serious in the first place. Next to this, I feared being touched, which is to say I was quietly panicking that one of the zombies would all of a sudden be sitting in the audience next to me, breathing in my face, pawing at my skirt. I've never been a fan of audience participation, especially when it's involuntary, and the thought of being spooked into suspending my disbelief by some too-serious dude in zombie makeup, well, it wasn't pleasant.
Thankfully, the cast played Dead just as I hoped; that is, in on the joke (and in front of me). Which is not to suggest the actors went for slapstick simply, either. To the contrary, Scott Johnson (as Ben), Amanda Hatch (as Barbara) and Stan Morrow (as Harry) all portray their Romero archetypes—badass black dude, ditzy damsel in distress and nerdy worry wart, respectively—with natural grace. When the intentionally unintentionally funny moments hit, and they do, often—they are defending themselves against zombies,after all—each of them pauses ever-so-slightly for the ensuing laughter.
In fact, for all my concern it turns out I have only one complaint about Dead, and it's teensy. I wish director Brian Newell had allowed for more concrete exposition of how and why the zombies became zombies. (Something to do with radiation and NASA, naturally.) As it is, we hear what's supposed to be a radio news broadcast but none of the characters on stage seems to hear it. While they silently went about boarding up the house, I realized I too was more focused on them than on the radio. Minor, I know, but even those of us who are afraid of suspending our disbelief will welcome the invitation.
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, AT THE MAVERICK THEATER, 110 E. WALNUT AVE., FULLERTON, (714) 526-7070; WWW.MAVERICKTHEATER.COM. FRI.-SAT., 8 P.M.; ALSO THURS., OCT. 26 & SUN.-TUES., OCT. 29-31, 8 P.M. THROUGH NOV. 4. $18.