CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Kanawha Players seem to have found their niche in horror and gore. Too bad Halloween only comes once a year. Friday's sold-out opening of "Night of the Living Dead" definitely lived up to the high standard set by last year's Halloween presentation of "Evil Dead."
Directors Ginger Workman and Devon Nuckles chose to recreate director George Romero's 1968 cult classic by capturing the artistic terror of the original, down to the minutest detail, even recreating a live-on-stage "black and white" production.
As for the black and white aspect of the play, sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. From the back of the sold-out auditorium, it mostly looked authentic, but as the characters moved up and down the isle (Oh yes, zombies roamed the isles. EEK!) the makeup tended to take on a smurf-like blue tinge.
Maybe it was the gels? When the character moved into the more yellow-tinted light, they legitimately looked like they were on the set of an old movie, but when they moved into the cool-tinted or true white lights, they tended to take on a blue hue.
Regardless of whether the monumental special effect works for you or not, the acting in the production is superb. The living characters range from militant and controlling to whiny and comatose. None of them are particularly likeable so, by the end, the audience cackled with glee as they were eaten, one by one.
Actors Ben Merchant (Ben) and Terry Lanham (Harry Cooper) do an excellent job of proving just how futile being pig-headed is in the face of a crisis. Their constant battle of wills escalates to the point where their fellow refugees are dying around them as they fight for control of the safe house.
The zombies, who are too numerous to name, are fantastic. They are on the stage or in the audience almost continuously through the entire show. This constant undercurrent of fright amplifies the dramatic conflict between the living characters exponentially.
This is a much shorter adaptation of the original film. The play only lasts about an hour, but the intensity of the drama is such that any longer would leave people squirming in their seats. I would see it again, but I recommend going early and sitting close to the front. There is no gore splatter, so you are in no danger of a ruined outfit. However, if you sit too far back, you are in danger of missing a large chunk of the action, which takes place on the stage floor and in front of the stage.
"Night of the Living Dead" shows again Saturday night and next Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. There is one matinee showing, this Sunday at 2 p.m. I wouldn't count on being able to get tickets at the door. It might be smarter to pay the small service charge and buy them online, at www.kanawhaplayers.org. Also, unless your kids are big horror fans, leave them home, the creepy freak-out factor is high.
Reach Autumn D.F. Hopkins at autumn.hopk...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1249.