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A haunting “Night of the Living Dead’ @ Blank Canvas Theatre

A haunting “Night of the Living Dead” @ Blank CanvasRoy Berko

Roy Berko

(Member, Cleveland Critics Circle, American Theatre Critics Association)

Pat Ciamacco, Artistic Director of Blank Canvas Theatre, is audience friendly.  He wanted to find a script for the venue’s Halloween season.  Though there are a lot of movies that fit his liking, there were few to no plays.  So, true to Ciamacco’s nature, he decided to write one.  But, then he thought, why invent a new script when he could adapt a classic like the 1968 horror comedy cult classic indie film,  “Night of the Living Dead.”  And, to make matters even better, due to a glitch by the films producers, who forgot to register the rights to the script, the work is in the public domain.  In other words, no royalty has to be paid.

The film, which cost $114,000 to make has taken in nearly 30 million dollars and has a cult following.  Another plus for Ciamacco.  A built-in group of followers.   Stage it, and they shall come!

The story concerns Barbara and Johnny, a brother and sister, who, each year make a visit to their father’s grave, in an isolated rural area.  Barbara is up tight over being in the graveyard.  So, of course, Johnny hides, jumps out and scares her, shouting, “They’re coming to get you.”  Little does he know how right he is.  In fact, “they,” the zombies, are coming to get everyone.

Barbara runs when a “man” attacks and kills Johnny.  She finds an abandoned farm house with a mangled corpse inside.  She tries to flee, only to be confronted by another zombie.  She is saved by Ben, who is seeking gasoline as his truck has run out of fuel.  They return to the house, board up the windows and wait for “the attack of the creatures.”

Ben finds a gun in the house and proceeds to shoot some of the attackers.  In the meantime, a young couple, and a married duo whose daughter has been attacked by the zombies, are holed up in the basement.  When downstairs residents hear the sound from the radio which Ben has turned on, they emerge from down below.  A series of twists and turns, and a television broadcast, push the plot of the intermissionless one-hour tale to its gruesome conclusion.

Getting the idea that this is not exactly the writing quality of “Hamlet?”  Well, as it turns out, it is a lot like the Shakespearean tragedy, as in the end, the stage is littered with dead bodies, good and bad characters, alike.

To the delight of the audience, each time someone is shot, red liquid squirts onto the patrons seated in the first two rows.  (If you don’t want to be part of the blood bath, make sure you are in the rear seating areas.)  A woman who saw the theatre’s even more bloody 2012 “Texas Chainsaw Musical” came into the theatre on opening night wearing a plastic raincoat with a hood, prepared for the spurting red showers.

The cast, garbed in bad wigs and over-stylized costumes, true to the melodramatic nature of the goings-on, play their roles with great seriousness, but with a tone of affected acting.  They take themselves seriously, in spite of the ridiculousness of the goings on, so the audience will both laugh at them as well as their surreal plight.

Kudos to Matthew Ryan Thompson (Johnny), Amber Revelt (Barbara),  DeVon Settles, Jr. (Ben), Stephen Berg (Tom), Jonathan Kronenberger (Harry Cooper), Tasha Brandt (Judy Rose), Theresa Dean (Helen), Makenna Weyburne (Karen), Ian Atwood (Sheriff McClelland), and Will Crosby (Posse Member), plus a horde of Zombies, for being ridiculous in order to create the ridiculous.

Credit for the stage blood effects goes to Ciamacco and Chuck Klein.

CAPSULE JUDGEMEN:  It’s the Halloween season, the traditional time of the year to pay homage to ghosts, goblins, and of course, zombies.  Pat Ciamacco and his merry band of performers give the audience a chance to wallow in stage blood, feign fear of the denizens of the dark, and enjoy themselves by watching the “Night of the Living Dead.”  Just remember, “Hamlet” this ain’t!

Tickets for “Night of the Living Dead,” which runs through November 1, 2014, can be ordered at 440-941-0458 or