Chambersburg Community Theatre brings back the 'living dead'
Six strangers trapped in a rural farmhouse surrounded by brain-eating zombies might not sound like the makings of a laugh out loud comedy.
Yet “Night of the Living Dead Live” is an officially authorized comedic tribute to George Romero’s historic, independent, 1968 horror film “Night of the Living Dead.”
The production will kick off Chambersburg Community Theatre’s 2019-2020 series, A Season of Laughs, with performances on Friday, Oct. 4 through Sunday, Oct. 6 and Friday, Oct. 11 through Sunday, Oct. 13.
Presented in all black and white, the show is meant to have the feel of the film brought to life onstage. CCT is the first theatrical company in the area, professional or amateur, to produce the play.
Jeff Leinbach and Cyd Tokar are co-directors of the PG-rated comedy/drama/horror, with sponsorship in part by Patriot Federal Credit Union.
Set in western Pennsylvania like the film, which was shot outside of Pittsburgh, the play explores the movie and considers other possible endings, Tokar said.
“The script is very different from the movie,” Tokar said. “It goes through the movie and offers different story lines, like what would have happened in different scenarios, what would have happened ‘if,’ and they are all hilarious. It is very funny.”
Staging the entire production in black and white, including sets, costumes and makeup, has been a fun and unique challenge.
“The script actually calls for (black-and-white staging),” Tokar said. “We’ve had to think through even simple choices, like ‘Oh, I’d love to have a bowl of fruit on the table.’ Well now, I will need to paint all the fruit. It’s very challenging when you are limited to colors all in shades of gray, black and white.”
Makeup considerations, too, have been a painstaking process. The hero in the story, Ben, is specifically an African American man. Keeping racial distinctions without flesh tones and with a limited palette took some trial and error, she said.
Matt Henning of Chambersburg, Pa., portrays Chief McClelland, the town’s no-nonsense police chief who stumbles upon the scene and makes witty observations while trying to clean up bodies and keep the situation under control. He also acts as narrator.
Henning said as an actor, he’s had to learn to keep the various sketches straight in his mind.
“The challenge has been to try to keep track of which scenario you are in. It’s the same basic scene over and over with a couple little changes to the initial story each time,” he said. “What if the women were in charge? What if the all-American hero type was in charge? What if they all tried to assimilate themselves with the zombies? What if they arm themselves to the teeth with bazookas?”
Henning said the story is so funny that well into the production process, only days before opening, the cast is still breaking out into laughter at the silliness.
“I love comedy, personally,” he said. “There are funny aspects of the show that really make us chuckle. I’ve done a lot of comedy. Sometimes after 20 or 30 times, the joke is lost on you. For us to still be laughing this far into the production, it’s very encouraging.”
Co-director Leinbach said along with the comedic elements are themes of contrasting personalities and agendas and people choosing to work together or against one another.
“As any story set in the zombie universe, it’s more about human relationships than anything,” he said. “The zombies just happen to be there, but what really happens is that people are forced to cooperate, or there is tension. What it really boils down to is, you know, how does a group of strangers get along in the face of adversity.”
Tokar said she and Leinbach have worked to present a play that is “true to the source material without being a carbon copy.”
“I hope the audience will walk away with more laughs than anything,” she said.
Henning, who also serves as president of the group’s board of directors, said CCT decided to schedule a season of four shows with a comedic focus.
“With everything going on in the world, we wanted to give people a chance to escape and have a couple of laughs. We are reaching across different genres, but all of the shows have comedic elements,” Henning said. “We think this will be a great show to usher in the Halloween season and to give people some laughs at the same time.”
The other plays for the theatrical season will be “Nuncrackers: A Nunsense Christmas,” which is part of the “Nunsense” series; “Nana’s Naughty Knickers,” which features a grandmother selling lingerie to senior citizens from her New York City apartment; and “Spamalot,” the musical comedy adapted from the 1975 film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”
“We are really excited for the season. I hope a lot of people will come and check it out and have a lot of laughs,” Henning said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”