THEATER REVIEW | '12TH NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD'
By JASON ZINOMAN
Published: October 30, 2007
“If music be the food of love, play on,” says the lovesick Orsino in “Twelfth Night.” But what to do, pray tell, if severed fingers and human intestines be the food of love?
There’s the rub of “12th Night of the Living Dead,” a gory marriage of the visions of those two singular showmen, William Shakespeare and George Romero, that never quite lives up to its ingenious title. This time the lovers don’t woo so much as wound. Poor priggish Malvolio (Tom Knutson) drools blood, and Viola (Lindsay Wolf) shuts up Sir Toby Belch (Timothy J. Cox) by feasting on his heart. You’ll probably never see another version of the play in which Orsino (Aaron Zook) offers his hand in marriage, literally.
The joke here — and there is just one — is that after a green shooting star crashes off the coast of Illyria, Shakespeare’s characters start turning into gasping, bloodthirsty zombies. The adapter, Brian MacInnis Smallwood, makes a valiant effort to stick to the script — using only Shakespeare’s words — but as the zombies keep multiplying, the spoken poetry becomes something simpler and more to the point: “Gaaaaaa!”
This made-for-Halloween production is part of a venerable tradition of zombie comedy that includes “Andy Punches” (a “Saturday Night Live” digital short featuring Andy Samberg and undead dancing), and the 2004 British satire “Shaun of the Dead.” Mr. Romero himself played with this idea brilliantly in “Dawn of the Dead,” a 1978 horror classic set in a shopping mall that hinted at the comic potential of eating human flesh.
The absurdist humor of “12th Night” is closer to Samberg than to “Shaun of the Dead,” and while it makes for a nice lark, it doesn’t add much to the zombie genre except, perhaps, for a dedication to blood and guts that you don’t often see onstage.
The director John Hurley’s cast is frighteningly game, especially Ms. Wolf, whose slobbering and stiff-legged gait are often confused as come-ons. But the gag does get tired after about 15 minutes of zombie-human interaction. And even the pun in the title is not as clever as the one on a sketch Mr. Smallwood wrote for a podcast advertising the show online. Its irresistible title: “Romero and Juliet.”
“12th Night of the Living Dead” continues through Nov. 10 at Teatro La Tea, 107 Suffolk Street, at Rivington Street, Lower East Side; (800) 838-3006 or brownpapertickets.com.