12th Night of the Living Dead
nytheatre.com review by J Jordan
October 26, 2007
12th Night of the Living Dead is exactly what it sounds like: the famous Shakespeare love story crossed with flesh-eating zombies. The marriage of two such different genres could easily end up making its creators look foolish. In this case, the result is hilarious.
If you don't know the story of Twelfth Night, you're not going to get it here. [Editor's Note: You can a synopsis here.] Likewise, if you are a purist when it comes to Elizabethan Theatre, you should seek your thrills in London at the Globe. And here's why: the play is full of zombies. It's about zombies, people getting turned into zombies, and whether or not true love can conquer being turned into a zombie.
What I love about this production is that the actors are so invested in their zombie characters. In an interesting choice, we never see Viola as a woman. By the time she washes up on the shores of Illyria she's already been turned into a zombie (a freakish meteor hits the ship, causing the crash and ensuing zombie-ism).
And Lindsay Wolf , who playa Viola, is fascinating. I totally believed she was a zombie and that if I didn't remain still in my seat she would catch sight of me and come eat me. In fact, that is practically all Wolf does throughout the hour and ten minutes. And it's brilliant. She is thoroughly watchable.
Likewise so are her zombie counterparts. In fact, the only real problem with putting zombies in a play is that no one will pay any attention to you if you're not a zombie, unless you're about to become one. And there lies the rub. A zombie's intention is clear—she wants one thing: blood. Well, blood and guts and entrails, but that's it. A person, on the other hand, has all kinds of thoughts running through his head. An actor in a Shakespeare play has to communicate all of these thoughts in iambic pentameter and metaphors and who knows what else. It's a fight a zombie will win every time.
All the actors do their best to hold their own above the zombies (before they become zombies themselves), but the one who stood out the most to me is Benjamin Ellis Fine, who plays Sir Andrew. He's hysterical and his sense of comic timing is impeccable.
A zombie purist might say the actors in this production give their zombies too much personality, but I would disagree. In a film, like George Romero's Night of the Living Dead, it pays for the zombies to be soulless entities devoid of personality or individuality. That's what makes them so scary. In theatre that would simply be boring.
And if there's one thing this play is not it's boring. Director John Hurley works hard to keep things moving and as entertaining as possible. There was a moment at the beginning when I thought if I kept laughing this much I wasn't going to make it through the play. Hurley also makes good use of the generous space at La Tea Theater, including a full-fledged graveyard (naturally) along with the rest of the town of Illyria in Rachel Gordon Smallwood's fabulous set design.
The costumes by designer Lillian Rhiger are fitting and, at times, humorous. Rhiger easily blends elements of Elizabethan couture with Bermuda shorts. If you don't believe me you'll have to see it for yourself. As for the makeup and special effects design, Alley Getz and her team of Janet Zarecor and Trixie Tuzzini deserve an award for their work on this production. It's the best I've ever seen.
The lighting and sound design, by Lilly Fossner and Ryan Dowd, respectively, do their best to move along the action without adding to the chaos onstage. The few blackouts leave something to be desired but seem like technical necessary evils.
I certainly didn't leave the theatre disappointed. There were plenty of zombies, an ending I was satisfied with, and plenty of blood. If there's one thing I hate it's that horror plays never use enough blood. When the audience was seated we were warned not to sit in the front row unless we wanted to be splattered.
There's also a ton of gore. It's really, really, really gross. Really. Gross. Just as it should be—after all, this is a zombie play. If you want to laugh and be grossed out and see a play about zombies, then head on down to La Tea to see 12th Night of the Living Dead. Just make sure you sit very, very still in your seat or they'll get you, too.