Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Stage Review: Maul of the Dead

Still from Maul of the Dead and link to the Coterie websiteA spiritual sequel of sorts to the Coterie’s previous productions of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (which I saw, but one day before it ended so I figured a review was pointless), Mitch Brian’s MAUL OF THE DEAD is an original-for-copyright-reasons spoof inspired by Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD, showing at the Crown Center mall and so feeling strangely immersive. It’s definitely an improvement over NIGHT, which suffered a little from the inevitable conflict between the campy presentation and the utter bleakness of the story. Here, the source material is a bit humorous to start with, and turning it into an out-and-out spoof makes for a very entertaining experience.

The action starts in the lobby, with two SWAT team members- Frank (Tosin Morohunfola) and Lewis (Matt Weiss)- helping an usherette (Keely Siefers) escort the audience into the theater and escape the zombie hordes outside. Locking themselves up inside JC Penney’s, they meet a flighty perfume girl (Ashleigh Murray) who doesn’t last too long, but other survivors- Orange Julius punk salesgirl Donna (Meredith Wolfe), TV weather reporter Wendy (Kimberly Queen), and her boyfriend John (Greg Krumins)- hole up with them. As the group tries to get supplies and fully secure themselves within the mall, an odd family dynamic develops, among other tensions.

One of the benefits MAUL OF THE DEAD gets from being a spoof rather than an adaptation is that it can (and to a certain extent has to) steer away from the original plot. The characters aren’t quite the same as the ones from DAWN OF THE DEAD, and the story mixes familiar beats with new twists. As broad as the characters are, the relationships that develop between them are amusing.

The enthusiasm of the performers certainly helps; there’s a consistent high energy and good spirit to the piece, and even in the quiet moments the actors keep up the momentum. I liked Wolfe’s faux-punk character more than I expected to at first, since it seemed too obvious an attempt to shove in a “Seventies” cultural reference. (Interestingly, they manage to play more authentic contemporary hits on the soundtrack than Romero could ever afford.) Morohunfola and Weiss do some impressive tumbling, and the script adds an interesting layer to their relationship (though this is arguably overplayed.) There aren’t really any bad performances, though, and it’s hard to pick out highlights. The zombies are played by two alternating teams, and are very dedicated to their craft.

If MAUL OF THE DEAD has a major flaw, it’s that the humor is uneven; sometimes they try to play up the camp melodrama, but this doesn’t quite work because it’s hard to get truly over the top in a zombie apocalypse. The 70s cultural nods sometimes work, sometimes don’t, though I like how thorough they are with the fashion. It’s at its best when it focuses on the character relationships, in particular the family setup that appears early in what would be the second act if this weren’t a one-act play.

Overall, the show’s a little lumpy and could use some fine-tuning in time for future Halloweens, but I definitely enjoyed myself and would recommend the show to people in the KC area. There are a few performances left through October 31st, despite my lateness in finishing this review, so give it a look.

Written by Mitch Brian
Directed by Ron McGee

Grade: B+

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