An undead invasion is under way at the Wichita Community Theatre. A staging of Tim Kelly’s “The Zombie” debuted Thursday and will run weekends through Nov. 3. It’s a production that will have audiences wading into swamps and through a spooky mansion as the characters on stage attempt to outwit a hypnotist whose aim is to turn them into mutant laborers. The show’s director says the play is a hilarious story full of twists and surprises.
“It’s a clever play,” said director Greg Dalton-White. “It’s a story about revenge. It’s funny. It’s campy. Tim Kelly plays are always crafty. He pulls characters from lots of directions, has them allude to familiar things, and weaves in interesting elements of culture within the dialogue.”
The story is set in northern Florida’s Okefenokee Swamp, where weird science and voodoo abound. It centers on disgraced former carnival hypnotist Dr. Baron Samedi’s ghoulishly sinister business. In a crumbling mansion rife with cobwebs, he’s teamed up with corrupt local cop Billy Jim Cartwright to lure unassuming travelers, immigrants and migrant workers into the swamp to be “zombized” and leased out as farm laborers. Revenge is Samedi’s motivation, and he uses his enterprise to settle old scores against those who have wronged him in the past.
During a fateful, stormy night, a young trio happens upon the mysterious house. Adam, a television producer, is engaged to be married to his girlfriend, Vivian. Their friend Rosemary is secretly in love with Adam. Unbeknownst to any of them, Rosemary’s mother was Dr. Samedi’s assistant during his carnival days. Inside the old house of shivering thrills and riveting shocks, secrets, grudges and retribution collide to a startling climax.
This will be the second time in five years that Wichita Community Theatre has staged a production of “The Zombie.” This year’s performance comes with a twist, though. Dalton-White has added in a “Scooby-Doo” element. Adam, Vivian, and Rosemary will be dressed up like the characters of Fred, Daphne, and Velma from the popular ghost-themed cartoon. A Shaggy-looking zombie will traipse across the stage.
Dalton-White said that characterization is a key element to the comedy in this play. Noting that there’s nothing esoteric or highbrow about the script, he said it’s very much a comedic thriller. He promised moments of frights, but said the audience will mostly find the material humorous.
“It’s filled with all these stereotypes,” he said. “You’ve got the voodoo priestess who’s really not a voodoo priestess. You’ve got the doctor who’s really not a doctor. You’ve got the southern sheriff that is dumber than a stick, yet cunning. We’re just taking it to the next level by adding in the ‘Scooby-Doo’ element.”
Another component that augments the production is the set, which Dalton-White designed himself. Upon entering the theater, playgoers will have to walk through a swamp maze and go inside the mansion to get to their seats. There will be several rows right on the floor of the mansion, too, and audience members will be just a few feet away from the mayhem of zombie attacks.
The three-act play will last about 2 hours, including an intermission. There will be a zombie beauty pageant during intermission on Nov. 2, where audience members can come dressed up and compete for a prize.
The cast includes John Dalton-White as the Zombie, Andrew Blocher as Adam, Logan Buehler as Billy Jim Cartwright, Greg Dalton-White as Baron Samedi, Virginia Morgan as Mama Matrisse, Melissa Hudson as Margo, Heather Jewell as Rosemary and Leanne Renae as Vivian.
Dalton-White said that there’s a certain intrigue with zombies that attract audiences to productions like this.
“A zombie invasion is something that we think could happen. We are wondering what we would do in those situations. You also have a chance against the zombies. We like the idea that you can fight your way out, find a safe place, and still be able to live in the world.”