The Zombies are coming. Two years ago, they invaded Jane Austin (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Then, earlier this year, political scientist Daniel Drezner pontificated about a coming Zombie apocalypse (International Politics and Zombies) while The Center for Disease Control and Prevention provided America with helpful tips on how to prepare for Zombie attacks. Now, with the Nicu’s Spoon production How The Day Runs Down, they’ve entered the world of Thorton Wilder’s Our Town. In keeping with the emerging Zombie literature genre, How the Day Runs Down, by John Langdon, is not exactly satire. Instead, it uses the conventions of low budget Zombie horror flicks to reexamine the cherished themes of an American classic. In the case of Our Town, it’s an inspired mash up.
Recall that in Our Town, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Drama and favorite production of high school drama clubs across the country, the play’s third act is set in a graveyard, where the newly deceased protagonist finds herself surrounded by the community’s dead. Although she asks to relive a day, she quickly finds reanimation too painful, and joins the rest of the dead, who are patiently waiting out eternity. How the Day Runs Down intervenes to ask: what if they lost their patience?
Like the three act play on which it is based, the intermission-less How the Day Runs Down is divided into three segments. Under the direction of S. Barton-Farcas, the taut hour and a half production builds seamlessly from comedy to suspense to pathos. Set in the present day, in suburban upstate New York, the first main segment of the evening focuses on two rifle-toting teenagers tasked with guarding their great-grandma’s grave, in case she should rise from the dead. As the siblings, Rachel Lee Lerman and Erwin Falcon, ease the audience into the world of the play. The dead are on the attack, but teenage siblings still squabble, and Lerman and Falcon do so here with sitcom-ish glee.
The centerpiece of the play, and the heart of the Nicu’s Spoon production, consists of a lengthy monologue delivered by a suburban mother, describing a Zombie attack which decimated her subdivision. Elizabeth Bell nails this role with an affable conversational style, peppered with a traumatized fixation with detail. Her description of an NPR reporter’s on-air death by zombies, for example, is bleakly comic without ever soliciting an obvious audience laugh.
In the final segment of How the Day Runs Down, as in the final act of Our Town, a young person meets an untimely death and has an inspirational exchange with the Stage Manager. As part of the conceit of the play, the Stage Manager fulfills much the same role as the Stage Manager of Our Town. He begins the production by introducing the audience to the world of the production (in this case, that includes instructions on how to kill zombies), provides helpful exposition throughout the play, and ends the evening by guiding a character to accept death. As the heroic dead boy, Matt De Rogartis provides a focused, saddened counterpoint to the teens in the earlier part of the production. Mark Armstrong’s Stage Manager dispenses folksy wisdom with a steely grit that keeps the production on track and renders the threat of the zombies real, and threatening.
And then there are the zombies: an eleven member zombie ensemble, covered in gory makeup, stringy hair, and strange assortment of clothing. Their fixed gazes never changes as they stoop about the stage. Under Barton-Farca’s direction, the zombie crew is never merely hokey. This bunch is downright creepy, and the production is great fun.