Undead flesh eaters seem to be all the rage these days on campus. On Halloween, a mob of zombies danced to “Thriller” on Green Street. In student film festivals, zombie movies are a staple. The next stage of evolution in zombie campus culture comes in the form of a new play debuting at the McKinley Foundation this Friday and Saturday night, entitled “A Zombie Play.” The play was written and directed by University of Illinois senior, Eric Roth.
“I’m coming in at a time when zombies and zombie things are kitsch and hip,” Roth explained before a Thursday night rehearsal. “But I approach the subject in a mocking, but serious manner.”
Roth chose the title “A Zombie Play,” so as to avoid any flack for claiming to be the definitive zombie play. “It’s one of many zombie plays that may exist,” he said. Though Roth admits he has never seen or heard of anything similar in topic or nature to this production.
Roth invited me into his childhood while he lay on an old card table as if it were a psychiatric sofa. “Ever since I was a kid I really wanted to be a zombie.” After a long, reflexive pause he corrected himself. “I always liked haunted houses… I wanted to make a play like a haunted house. “
He also noted the limitations of a student production with little to no budget. “Zombie movies rely heavily on special effects and costuming, but in a play there’s a suspension of disbelief. That was a big reason I wanted it on the stage.”
Throughout the interview, Roth would laugh and censor himself. “I don’t want to tell you too much and give it away.” He was willing to say it was “physically impossible” for the audience to stay in their seats after the first five minutes.
The big question I had was what the intention of the play was. Is it supposed to be scary or is it supposed to embrace the kitsch and camp that is associated with many zombie movies.
“My friend, Ali Murphy, came to a rehearsal and she said it was ‘both funny and scary.’ People that are in the play still get scared.” Roth leans back and laughs a laugh well-suited for someone who has spent the past year planning a play centered on zombies.
From interacting with the small cast, humor definitely comes through. Roth, including the majority of the group is involved with various campus comedy groups including Potted Meat and improv groups Spicy Clamato and Debono. A five minute discussion on the merits of fake blood (the debate could be alternately titled the “cool vs. clean” debate) ended with one cast member being concerned that the mink stole he planned on wearing on stage would be ruined by the blood.
To sell the play further, Roth insisted on speaking in self-proclaimed hyperboles. “No other theatre group is doing what we’re doing!” Roth exclaimed. “It’s an experience they’ll remember forever!”
After staying for a full run-through, I’d have to agree.
“A Zombie Play” will run at the McKinley Foundation tonight and tomorrow with shows starting at 8: 30 p.m., 9:30 p.m., and 10:30 p.m. each night. The cost is $5 at the door.