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Stages

Living dead hit the stage in ‘Zombie Double Feature’

Omar Robinson and Greer Rooney admire Baby Zombie in “Terror at BPT,’’ the second of two one-act plays.

New Exhibition Room

Omar Robinson and Greer Rooney admire Baby Zombie in “Terror at BPT,’’ the second of two one-act plays.

Turns out, the zombie apocalypse will be crowd-funded.

New Exhibition Room used the website IndieGoGo to raise $2,500, about half the production expenses for the troupe’s “Zombie Double Feature,” now at Boston Playwright’s Theatre.

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“You need blood and body parts and all kinds of things,” says A. Nora Long, artistic director of the company.

Long wrote and directs “Midnight at the Last Night Cabaret,” the first of a pair of one-act plays that make up the evening. It’s about a theater full of actors and audience members who come face to face with the end of the world. The show, however, must go on, even with zombies fumbling onto the stage. Included are different live musicians at every performance.

“Zombie films tend to be chronicling the end of the world, since very rarely in the films does everybody make it out,” Long says. “One of the things I was interested in is this idea of the values we are attached to in our last moments.

“Everybody in zombie movies has guns and tends to be really heavily armed. If the zombie apocalypse was to break out due to some lab experiment that has gone awry at MIT, I don’t own any guns, and most people I know don’t own any guns. What would a group of artists do as a result of the zombie apocalypse?” she says. “They’re using their last moments to put on a play.”

New Exhibition Room’s other artistic director, Dawn M. Simmons, wrote and directs “Terror at BPT,” the story of apocalypse survivors living in the theater months into the zombie apocalypse under the reign of a cultish leader known as The Vicar. Expect dark comedy and lots of blood from both plays, albeit under slightly different rules of zombie existence.

In separate conversations, both creators say that drive-in movie theaters were a key inspiration, as Simmons grew up going to drive-ins in upstate New York and Long has lately become a fan of the Mendon Drive-In. They promise popcorn, snacks, and perhaps a surprise or two to make the evening feel like a real trip to the drive-in.

The living dead have of course become a favorite trope in American pop culture since George Romero’s low-budget “Night of the Living Dead” first hit screens in 1968. Now there’s everything from the hit “Walking Dead” cable TV series to literary parodies like “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.”

The idea of a zombie play first arose, Long says, when she and friends exited some now-forgotten serious work of theater three or four years ago and someone suggested that it would have been more fun with zombies. Soon the double feature idea took hold. A zombie appeared in New Exhibition Room’s “Candyland” in 2010. Last year the troupe staged its “Zombie Survival Training” workshop.

“We sort of hit when zombies were becoming hip again,” says Long. “It seemed like they were everywhere.”

If anything, they worried that they might have missed the cultural moment, but zombies seem to be going strong. Long has become something of a scholar of zombie films in the last couple of years. Simmons has an even more profound connection to the genre.

“I have a younger brother, so I grew up with zombies,” Simmons says. “My mother was the first one to show us ‘Night of the Living Dead.’ She showed it to us on Halloween, when we were really young. I was probably 8, so my brother was 6.”

Eight and six? So your mom was a little sadistic?

“No, it was a classic! And ‘Night of the Living Dead’ had a black protagonist,” notes Simmons, who is black. “It was really great to see this guy in what was not a common role. He was the hero, and he had such a tragic ending. But he is the guy who keeps everybody calm and keeps everybody safe, and I think that was important for us to see.”

In fact, turnabout will be fair play when her mom comes to Boston to see “Zombie Double feature.”

The large cast includes company member Hannah Husband, who says, “I start human in both pieces and I become a zombie by the end of both.”

Zombies may be dumb, slobbering, subhuman creatures, but there’s real acting involved in playing one, Husband says.

“We talked a lot about how it affects the body,” she says. “In ‘Last Night,’ I have a scene where I am actually waking up from the dead and slowly transforming into my undead life, and the things we thought about and worked on were like, vocally, as breathing stops, as fluids congeal, are you still able to make sound? And we decided in ‘Last Night’ that we are not.”

Husband is also New Exhibition Room’s fight choreographer.

“The fun thing is, when you’re fighting zombies, they don’t react the way humans react,” she says. “So if you punch a zombie in the head, maybe its head gets stuck in the direction you hit it. Or, we have a moment where one of the characters punches a zombie in the gut area, and her hand gets stuck inside.”

All together now: Ewwww.

Creating the zombies’ look is the task of Eric Propp, who’s in charge of special effects and costumes.

While the evening’s tone is generally comic, Husband says there is “exponentially more” violence than in the plays she usually works on. The evening carries a warning of “adult language, adult situations, ultra violence, and zombie dance breaks. Parental guidance is suggested, may not be suitable for children under 17.”

It should also be noted that an undertone of politics becomes more audible when it turns out one of the characters in Simmons’s play has, um, lain with a zombie. This leads to a vexing and ultimately bloody dispute over whether the right to life really applies when your baby is undead.

“It’s horrible, but it’s gloriously horrible, and it should be a lot of fun,” Simmons says.

Joel Brown can be reached at
jbnbpt@gmail.com
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