'Night of the Living Dead' inhabits Chuco Town

October 15, 2019

 

The troop over at the El Paso Playhouse took a risk in adapting George A.

 

Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” for the stage and it payed off wonderfully.

 

Evan Hughes / Tejano Tribune

At the El Paso Playhouse, the troop took a risk

in adapting George A.Romero's "Night of the living Dead"

for the stage and the play resulted as a wonderful master piece.  

 

John Estrada had the idea to make the 1969 horror-classic into a play set in modern day El Paso; while keeping as true to Romero’s story as possible.

 

The film, hailed by independent filmmakers as ground-breaking and socially conscience, because of a low budget achieved its storytelling through dialog in one setting.


Romero’s play adaptation of the movie will be performed every Friday and Saturday at 8 P.M.; and Sundays at 2 P.M.


Estrada channeled ideas from the civil rights movement into his play; making the value of his work last for days to come.

 

“As a monumental touchstone of popular culture, (“Night of the Living Dead”) has transformed what audiences and fans have come to expect from filmmakers and storytellers through their examination of current themes,” Estrada said.


At length, the dialog in the play stays true to the source material.

 

This is a testament to how strong the writing was 50 years ago and how iconic lines like “They’re coming to get you Barbara,” have been immortalized.


Sadly the lead roles are almost complete copies of the actors in the movie.  

 

The only difference between Nick Nieder’s portrayal of the protagonist “Ben” and Duane Jones’ is for some reason Nieder seems to be wearing Judd Nelson’s outfit from “The Breakfast Club.”

 

Being a community theater it is difficult to criticize any of the cast’s performances.

 

 But Tracy Levin stood out. In a zombie outbreak situation there are people you would rather not be with and he is certainly one of them.


The rage that Levin inspires playing the simple-minded Harry Hooper will have you cringe in your seat. 


Later Romero would go on to direct five films in this “of the Dead” canon, and if he strayed too far from the things that worked in his first film the subsequent would be less successful.


Estrada gives you just enough background information, but like Romero, he never attempts to explain why this phenomenon is happening.

 

There is no need to invent a supernatural or scientific reason for the dead to be getting up and eating people.

 

The less you tell the audience of the origin of the zombies; the less of a chance they have to poke holes in your plot.  


Because the film was shot in one location, it was easily adapted to the stage.

 

Compliments to the set design team who simulated a cemetery, showed the audience inside the farmhouse and then below in the cellar.


“Night of the Living Dead” has a mastery of the use of darkness.

 

The realization that an anonymous arm breaking through a house window and grabbing at someone who thought they were safe is scarier than Frankenstein lumbering over to his victim.

 

Both of those are reanimated corpses but one’s scary and one sounds like a Mel Brooks movie.


The decision to do this play is refreshing because the appeal of doing something safe and crowd-pleasing like the “Rocky Horror Show” dominate this part of the holiday season.  

 

This play was creative, nerve-wrecking and respectful to the original work.

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