Mama Didn’t Raise No Zombie
Directed by George Robert Bailey
Reviewed by Craig Nolan Highley
Entire contents are copyright © 2012, Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.
Something about the idea of the dead rising with a mindless craving for living human flesh has always fascinated me. I think it tracks back to when I was ten years old and would get freaked out by the TV commercials for that forbidden “unrated” film Dawn of the Dead. Those were the days before home video, and there was no way in Hell my conservative parents would ever let me see such a movie, and I had to satisfy my curiosity with the snatches of plot details I would hear from my friends at school with less discerning parents.
Around that time I had the same problem with the Italian film Zombie and scores of others over the years. My curiosity was at a fever pitch before I could finally see them for myself, which didn’t happen until late into my twenties.
So I have always had a love for the zombie sub-genre of horror. These days it has almost reached the point of overkill, now that everybody and their brother can buy a cheap movie camera and create their own zombie apocalypse, and usually with sub-par results. There is even a can’t-miss-an-episode TV series called The Walking Dead, which brings the genre full-circle, back to the original ideas set forth by George Romero himself over forty years ago.
In 2009 I had the pleasure of catching a zombie-themed stage play (a venue I never expected to find zombies in!) written by Louisville’s own playwright Brian Walker. It was called Zombie!, part of a Finnigan Productions double-feature of short plays and it was just an incredible production. I even posted a review for it back then: http://www.theatrelouisville.org/reviews2009/ch_wrong.php
Imagine my delight then, when I saw that the play I was assigned to review for The Alley Theater’s Inhuman: A Festival of the New American Undead Theater was a new zombie play by Mr. Walker!
I was disappointed to learn that Mama Didn’t Raise No Zombie was not, in fact, a new Brian Walker play, but an expanded version of the Finnigan play – but only slightly disappointed because I realized I would get to see a new production of a play I loved. It still tells the tragic story of a grandmother desperately trying to hold her family together during a zombie outbreak, gathering her loved ones on her farm surrounded by an electric fence. Everything goes wrong on the day she tries to throw her grandson a birthday party.
Sadly, though, the version playing at the Alley pales in comparison with the Finnigan production. Walker’s script is still solid, equal parts funny, dramatic and suspenseful; some of the performances are quite good, and director George Robert Bailey gives the show some clever moments in its staging. Unfortunately, some of the performances are truly sub-par and the overall pacing of the show needs some heavy tightening.
I say this is an extended version because it did run about twice as long as the Finnigan version, but I honestly couldn’t tell what was added, other than (I think) a very brief and awkwardly staged dream sequence.
On the technical side, the set and lighting effects were quite good, and the zombie makeup effects were convincing (although it’s a little strange how many zombies share a liking for white T-shirts, which really show off blood-spatter). The basement location of the theater and the construction zone you have to walk through to get to it rather add to the sense of desolation.
I can’t really single out any of the actors for high praise or harsh criticism (even though there were definitely members in the cast that deserved one or the other) because the program doesn’t tell us who was who, it just provides a list of actors, almost all of which were new faces to me that I hadn’t seen before.
Not a bad production, though, and that is largely due to the power of Walker’s writing. My companion and I jumped in our seats more than once, and that’s saying something because I don’t scare easily. If you’re a zombie fan like me, this (and the rest of the shows in the Festival) is still a must-see.
Mama Didn’t Raise No Zombie
Starring: John Aurelius, George Robert Bailey, Brittany Blau, Abby Braune, Megan Claire, Mandy Cox, Riker Hill, Carter Mullins, Cristina Mullins, Shelly Reid, and April Singer, with voices by Gabe Bullard, Stan Cook, Laura Ellis, Kristin Espeland, and Tony Smith.
Part of: Inhuman: A Festival of the New American Undead Theater
Running March 1-24, 2012, at The Alley Theater. Check here for the exact schedule:
1205 East Washington Street