“The Living Dead” is Coming to Get Us This October At Cincinnati Shakespeare Company

Spooky season is in full swing and Cincinnati Shakespeare Company is joining in on the action with its World Premiere Commission of “The Living Dead” directed by Brian Isaac Phillips.

Review by Katrina Reynolds

Spooky season is in full swing and Cincinnati Shakespeare Company is joining in on the action with its World Premiere Commission of “The Living Dead” directed by Brian Isaac Phillips. Inspired by the film of the same name by George A. Romero and John A. Russo, this 85-minute production (no intermission) takes us on a journey of individualism, ego, power struggle, survival…oh, and did I mention there are zombies? 

For those who are familiar with the horror classics, I will keep this plot summary short: some travelers who have unwittingly wandered into the middle of the world’s next contagion seek refuge in an abandoned house and are forced to figure out a way to work together in order to persevere through the increasing dangers outside. While the play keeps the same basic storyline as the film, playwright Isaiah Reaves creatively modernizes situations and points out parallels to what we currently see/hear in the world of news (or is it ”fake” news?). Reaves excels at taking the audience on an emotional roller coaster to which every audience member is able to relate. Sure, we expect fear and panic in a horror story – but what about guilt, humour, poignance, and pensiveness? The themes of racism covered in the 1968 film are certainly addressed in this play as well as quite a few other “-isms” of note. Further, the correlation between the COVID-19 pandemic and what would happen if a true zombie apocalypse came to town is smart, insightful writing – and is even more disturbing than fresh corpses coming back to life. 

Kudos to the design crew for this piece: Scenic Designer Samantha Reno (who never seems to disappoint), Lighting Designer Nina Agelvis (creative decisions across the board), Sound Designer Zack Bennett (utter perfection), Projection Designer Robert Carlton Stimmel (some of the best choices I’ve seen in projections), and Properties Designer Kara Eble Trusty (a very large job but done very well). The aesthetics of a show like this are paramount to the execution and this crew did not disappoint. A special shout-out needs to be given to Costume Designer Rainy Edwards. One might think it’s not a big task to design clothing choices for a modern-day show, but Ms. Edwards was able to clothe the actors in a way that left them mobile without having to adjust pieces of their wardrobe after more active moments. In addition, each character’s ensemble told a very clear story of who they are without being distracting. Brava, Ms. Edwards!

Casting a true ensemble piece can be tricky – but CSC understood the assignment. We see some familiar faces along with the introduction of young artist Annabel Phillips who is the next in the line of theatrical royalty (her parents are talented CSC alum Corinne Mohlenhoff and none other than artistic director Brian Isaac Phillips). It should be noted that the role of Tommy will be played by understudy Jay Wade 10/14 – 10/15. This turn reunites Mr. Wade with his “Sweat” (Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati) co-star Burgess Byrd and director Darnell Pierre Benjamin.  

This production of “The Living Dead” is the first play in over 20 years that was commissioned, developed, and given a world-premiere entirely at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. In keeping with the idea that CSC is a theatre for the classics, the ideology behind commissioning new plays is that the next new voice could create the next classic. This reviewer (and theatre artist) thinks this is the type of forward-thinking concept Cincinnati theatre desperately needs and it should be encouraged and supported.

“The Living Dead” runs through October 29. To purchase tickets and learn more, visit HERE.

Content Advisory: Production contains adult situations, language, and themes including acts of violence and simulated gunshots as well as strobing light effects. For additional information, contact the CSC Box Office at 513-381-2273.

Katrina “Kat” Reynolds is a local performing artist and directress. She serves as the copy editor for Rob Bucher’s Behind The Curtain Cincinnati. Her company, Harley Quinn Studios, produces old-timey radio show content and provides the place “where the voices in your head come to play”.

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