NORTHBRIDGE — You’re only human, especially when it comes to zombies.
In George A. Romero’s 1968 black-and-white horror film “Night of the Living Dead,” the living human beings trapped in a rural farmhouse in Pennsylvania while besieged by a growing group of zombies don’t exactly act like a perfect team during the course of a long night. Indeed, self-interest and betrayal is rife from the start. To err is human. Zombies (recently deceased who have become reanimated and are consuming the flesh of the living) are more single-minded.
That is part of what made the film compelling, said Jeremy Woloski of Braid Productions, who has written an adaptation for the stage. “Night of the Living Dead - Dead on Stage,” which Woloski also directs, will open its run at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 12. at the GB & Lexi Singh Performance Center at Alternatives in Whitinsville.
“The story isn’t necessarily about the zombies. It’s about the people working or not working together in the farmhouse. It’s the human element,” Woloski said.
“Why do they do the things that they do? Are they selfish or are they trying to help others? None of the characters are innocent going into it.”
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the film (Romero died last year), which was initially criticized for the gruesomeness of some of its scenes but has come to be regarded as a terrifying horror classic. “It’s one of my favorite movies. It was the first horror movie I saw as a kid,” Woloski said. “Sure, people watch the violence and gore, but it’s really the interpersonal relationships. People try to survive.”
Nevertheless, the film could be said to have brought zombies to life.
“Zombies are everywhere now,” Woloski said of their frequent presence in contemporary movies and TV shows. “This (‘Night of the Living Dead’) is one of the stories that set the rules.”
“Night of the Living Dead - Dead on Stage”
When: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 12, 13, 19, 20, 26 and 27; 2 p.m. Oct. 14, 21 and 28.
Where. GB and Lexi Singh Performance Center, Alternatives, 60 Douglas Road, Whitinsville
How much: $20; $18 seniors; $10 youth. Cash only at the door. Tickets can be purchased online from Brown Paper Tickets, www.braidproductions.com/tickets
If zombies have a penchant for attacking the living, a lot of humans seem to be irresistibly drawn to them as well. When auditions were announced for the Braid Productions adaptation, people from all over Massachusetts and from all walks of life stepped forward, including some with no acting experience who just wanted to be a zombie, Woloski said. “We have some people who just like horror movies. Or the living dead.”
The cast of 34 people playing the living, the dead and sometimes both, makes the show the largest that Braid Productions has done, Woloski said. “We have acting veterans and newcomers and parents with their children ... We keep getting people who want to be zombies.” The crew too was in some instances drawn to the zombie zeitgeist, with one new makeup person traveling in from Western Massachusetts.
Speaking of parents, Woloski’s 11-year-old daughter is “one of the lead kid zombies,” he said. “She does like playing a zombie. She does get into it.”
But make no mistake: While there are some light comedic moments, “we’re playing it straight for drama and horror, as true to the original as we possibly can,” Woloski said.
One exception is that Woloski’s adaptation updates the story, and he has shot some scenes (including one in which his 7-year-old son appears) as news reports about the escalating zombie apocalypse that will be shown on a screen in the theater.
As for the gore, the makeup mostly shows wounds/lacerations, Woloski said. “Any gore that we have in the show is done in a realistic manner. We’re not going over the top. We don’t have 20 gallons of blood.”
Woloski once directed a production of “Evil Dead: The Musical” that had 10 gallons of fake blood spilled every night. “But that was a comedy. This is realism.”
He’s also fleshed out, so to speak, some of the characters who might seem one-dimensional in the movie. That includes the zombies, with the actors playing them being encouraged to have their own backstory in mind concerning how they got into such a state.
“Anybody could be a zombie. It’s not like Dracula. Anybody could be a zombie in a second. At any moment anybody could go to hell. I think that’s what makes it scarier.”
But for somebody to be a zombie on stage, there are certain codes of conduct.
Braid Productions has held a zombie camp for the cast.
There are three basic rules, Woloski said. To wit: Zombies are easily distracted by noise, drawn to movement and drawn to the living. “We’ve worked on movement. We’ve worked on falling down,” Woloski said. Stage combat is “highly choreographed so they look good but most important of all, nobody gets hurt.”
In this story of the quick and the dead, the living have to be quick. “Window zombies” are constantly snatching at the windows of the farmhouse.
“You have to be on your toes. There is a little bit of improv,” Woloski said. “One actor said it’s the most stressful play he’s ever been in. Hopefully that will translate to the audience.”
On the other hand, someone drawn to the story might see the production as a way to overcome stage fright and get involved with a play, Woloski noted.
Cast member Chris Doherty of Bellingham doesn’t have any fear of performing. “I was actually a professional wrestler 20 years ago,” said Doherty, who now works as an arms inspector, when asked if he has acting experience. “Acting, yes. (But) this is my first play.”
When he heard about the production of “Night of the Living Dead,” he decided to take action. “I am a huge fan of the whole series of movies. I thought it was something I could do well in, especially the combat scenes.” For those in the know of the story, Doherty plays Johnny. Doherty also plays a zombie at the end of the play.
“I think it will be fun for everyone involved. I’m bringing my 4-year-old to one of the shows,” Doherty said. He sees the story as a “break from the pressures of the real world. It’s all fun and games and good humor.”
Has the show whetted his appetite for doing more theater? “You never know. If the right opportunity comes along, why not?”
It appears that there is an audience getting ready to eat it all up.
Advance ticket sales are ahead of any of Braid Productions’ previous shows, Woloski said. “So it looks like it will be successful.”
Will there be life after Woloski’s “Night of the Living Dead”?
“I would love to see this show go on and see other people take it on and do their interpretation of it,” Woloski said. “I’d love to see this published someday so other groups can do it and spread it around. Human nature is always going to be human nature and that’s what this play deals with.”
Contact Richard Duckett at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TGRDuckett