A horde of brainless villains have emerged out of nowhere, spreading fear and loathing as they savagely attack everything we hold dear in their quest to destroy Life As We Know It.
No, that’s not a description of the avid supporters of the candidate you’re voting against in ten days – accurate though that description may very well seem, no matter which side you’re on, judging from the internet comments sections I seem unable to tear myself from (Readers, do you have a remedy for this addiction, other than November 9?!?).
Rather, and almost as terrifyingly (!), it’s the premise for Carnegie Mellon alum George Romero’s 1968 classic horror film Night of the Living Dead (a film I may be one of the few people in Pittsburgh not to have ever seen (sorry, I’m not a horror film fan)). And that film, in turn, is the inspiration for Bricolage Production Company’s newest installation of Midnight Radio, a 1940s-stye live performance (and send-up) of radio drama.
Adapted and directed by Tami Dixon, Night of the Living Dead N’At dubs live dialogue and sound effects onto scenes and stills from Romero’s film that are projected behind voice actors as they spoof the living, the undead, and the about-to-be-dead. Jason McCune, Sheila McKenna, Wali Jamal, and Sean Sears scurry from mic to mic as they create, for our “aural pleasure,” a multitude of characters, including an upper-class socialite (McKenna), a gruff sheriff (McCune), a squeaky-voiced lieutenant (Sears), and a take-charge man of action (Jamal). They also give life to the film’s mob of growling, snarling zombies, accompanied by a select group of patrons who are invited to join in the teeth-gnashing from a special “Zombie Porch.” In addition, the cast creates a dizzying array of sound effects with precision and flair, and a big part of the fun of Midnight Radio lies in seeing the inventive and low-tech ways Dixon and company create the illusion that you are hearing gunshots, fire, footsteps, wind…you name it, they can make it seem real.
Musical director Deana Muro and musical guests Cello Fury provide eerily suspenseful background music to the action, and Cello Fury also takes center stage during the interlude with their original brand of cello rock (if you’ve never heard this local trio of Simon Cummings, Ben Muñoz, and Nicole Myers, this is as good an opportunity as any to introduce yourself to their unique and exciting sound).
Thematically, Night of the Living Dead N’At offers a trenchant distillation of what many of us have been feeling during this crazy election year, playfully inviting us to project our “us” vs. “them” anxieties onto the film’s zombie apocalypse. It’s cathartic to see the world purged of existential threat in such an outrageously goofy way. But what’s truly soul-raising about both the Midnight Radio format and Bricolage’s overall approach to making theater is the way it counters that very divisiveness by building community out of strangers. I can think of no other theater, or theater experience, that can so consistently be counted on to make audience members feel like “part of the family,” that so easily and effortlessly breaks through the fourth wall and invites the audience “in,” and that so generously encourages us to join together in laughter and self recognition. That’s a truly welcome feeling in a Halloween season that feels so much scarier than usual.