Hat Trick has reanimated George Romero’s 1968 horror classic Night of the Living Dead at Ruth Eckerd Hall’s Murray Theatre. It’s got fake blood, gun shots and scary-funny zombies.
Best of all, they keep the horror to just a little more than an hour with no intermission.
The setting, like the film, is 1960s Pennsylvania. A brother and sister (Jamie Jones and Emily Belvo) are visiting their deceased mother, and right after the brother jokingly tries to scare his sister impersonating a ghost, a zombie emerges and pins him to the ground. A devastated Belvo runs inside a boarded-up farmhouse, assisted by a kind stranger (Nick Torres) as a family and couple comfort an ailing girl in the basement.
Grody sleepwalkers with dripping blood and disheveled clothing (kudos to Misty Horsby’s FX makeup and Myndee Washington’s costume design) can be coyly seen through a boarded-up living room window, as well as some mighty-real-looking headlights courtesy of lighting designer Mike Shine. The script, based on Romero and Paul Russo’s screenplay, captures the hollow uneasiness of the film, alternating in mood from camp to Walking Dead-like dread.
Director Jack Holloway once again excels at choreographing battle scenes and other physical theater. His cast gets an A for their believable freak-outs and attacks.
“I would say I retained about 75 percent of the original script with punch-ups, tweaks to lines here and there,” says Holloway, Hat Trick’s artistic director and self-proclaimed donut fan, in an e-mail after the show. “I added dialogue here and there to describe the going on’s outside the house –when they’re trying to use the Molotov cocktails to escape … in the film, they’re just able to show it. We needed a little bit of active running commentary.”
What’s the biggest distinction from the film? “In the staging,” adds Holloway, “showing all three locations at the same time … being able to see what the cellar survivors are doing during Ben and Barbara’s scene, and in a few of the characters’ fates: Harry bites the dust because of Barbara’s struggle with him, which pushes him into waiting ghoul claws. In the movie, Ben shoots him out of anger.”
Displaying expertise of both the potential and limitations of the stage, Hat Trick puts on a creepy-good show. Betty-Jane Parks and Kristen Garza provide period-accurate set pieces and create a nightmarish ambiance. An ominous black cross hangs over the doorway and blood-streaked yellow walls remind us that things didn’t go so well with the residents there.
On the night of our performance, a group of well-behaved teens in our audience seemed to eat it all up, reacting with boisterous laughter — especially during one fourth wall-shattering surprise that we won’t spoil for you.
Pulp horror brush with fame: Ruth Eckerd Hall notified us that Night of the Living Dead star Marilyn Eastman attended the Saturday night performance and participated in a Q&A. Eastman played Helen Cooper in Romero’s 1968 film. According to IMDB, she was born in Iowa and later moved to Pittsburgh where she established her working relationship with Karl Hardman (Night co-star and long-time colleague). In addition to acting, Eastman worked on make-up, props and contributed to the editing of the screenplay.
Says Holloway: “There was a funny moment where someone asked how she felt about the 1991 remake (Tom Savini’s) of Night of the Living Dead. She basically said, ‘Ehhhhh…next question.'”
When to go:
Thursday, Nov. 2, at 7:30 pm
Friday, Nov. 3, at 7:30 pm
Saturday, Nov. 4, at 7:30 pm
Sunday, Nov. 5, at 3 pm
Single tickets to all shows are priced at $24. Student and military discounted tickets are available for $20 with a valid form of ID. A three-show package priced at $55 is also available — a $17 discount. Tickets are available at the Ruth Eckerd Hall Ticket Office, by calling 727-791-7400 or visiting RuthEckerdHall.com.