How the Day Runs Down
nytheatre.com review by Michael Mraz
July 8, 2011
The Zombie epidemic has officially hit. The Undead are everywhere you look. Luckily for us, though, they're still trapped in movie theaters, on our televisions, on the pages of books and comics, and, more and more often, behind the fourth wall of the stage. A wave of Zombie popularity has hit over the past few years with movies like Zombieland, with the success of AMC's adaptation of The Walking Dead graphic novels, and with plays like Twelfth Night of the Living Dead, which was a Zombified version of Shakespeare's classic. The next Zombie invasion to hit is Nicu's Spoon's production of How the Day Runs Down, which is billed as an adaptation of Thorton Wilder's Our Town with zombies.
How the Day Runs Down, written by John Langan, is not quite Our Town. There is an omniscient Stage Manager who, like Our Town's, sometimes gives the recently dead a last look at their old life, and the story takes place in Good Hope Crossing (sharing the initials of Grover's Corners), but that is where the similarities end. How the Day Runs Down is a picture of the waning days of humanity as seen through the eyes of a few members of this small town.
Mark Armstrong, as the Stage Manager, is a fantastically charming and charismatic presence on stage. With a calm, almost nonchalant manner, he relates the pertinent information about Good Hope Crossing and the new world we've been thrust into. His opening speech is basically a rundown of the "rules" of surviving the Zombie infestation (reminiscent of the opening of Zombieland). Infused with such taut pacing and charm, I could have listened to Armstrong talk about Zombies for the full hour-and-a-half runtime of the show.
The Stage Manager introduces us to a few residents of Good Hope Crossing and their stories. The show gets off to a good start with the first few scenes as we encounter a man who is being pursued by his infected church pastor—all the time giving the Zombie pastor the benefit of the doubt before finally having to finally accept that he cares more about brains than God now. Following this is a fun scene in a graveyard, as a brother and sister (played with a perfect combination of playfulness and impetuousness by Rebecca Lee Lerman and Erwin Falcon) tempt fate by hunting the walking dead as they rise. With both of these scenes, director S. Barton-Farcas does a great job of setting the dingy, bloody mood of Zombie Good Hope Crossing and balances the gore and dark humor that make Zombie stories great.
The centerpiece of How the Day Runs Down is the story of Mary Phillips. As a standalone piece, Mary's story of the slow collapse of the world as we know it, as her husband and children hear it chronicled on National Public Radio from the safety of their own home, and finally the disintegration of her own life as the Zombie invasion crashes in on them, is a fantastic and nuanced piece of writing. Equally so, Elizabeth Bell, as Mary, delivers this 45-minute story brilliantly, bouncing effortlessly between fear, tenderness, paranoia, and longing. But unfortunately, after 45 minutes of monologue, the audience starts to miss what they came to see in the first place: Zombies. Sure, Mary talks about them, but they don't really appear. To her credit, Barton-Farcas seems to realize we are lacking the physical presence of Zombies, but she does Bell no favors here by slowly filtering the Zombie population in during her monologue. This move is made so early and the monologue is so long, that no matter how well Bell is delivering the story, all you can do is look at the Zombies slowly plodding in for 25 minutes. Eventually, you are more concerned with the Zombies finally getting to her than what is actually being said, which is unfortunate because this is the emotional climax of the story.
How the Day Runs Down has a great potential. Steven Wolfe delivers a creative lighting design that sets the mood perfectly. And the makeup, costumes, and overall world created by Barton-Farcas are fantastic. But the play's monologue-heavy style leaves one longing for the human interactions between survivors that are central to Zombie stories, and sometimes it just doesn't feel like it has enough Zombies. The cast does a fantastic job and Langan delivers an interesting story, but, in the end, there are few things that great acting and taut writing can't compete with on stage—but one of those things happens to be the soft groaning and slow plodding of the Undead.