by Liz Richards · August 23, 2015
Belle Caplis | Michael Bernstein
How much is a relationship worth fighting for? Is it easier to be miserable alone or together? Or should you just chuck it all and move to Connecticut? Night of the Living raises questions you find in many relationships in New York City, as well as onstage, but with a post-apocalyptic twist.
The play jumps back and forth between Marshall and Mia’s fifth wedding anniversary and a time a few years later after an outbreak of Zeta, which has turned the rest of New York City (and possibly the rest of the world- there’s a reference to an outbreak in South America) into zombies. In the present day, their biggest concern is who is putting more work into the relationship, with the added threat of Mia’s possible affair with a coworker. But then their young son Henry is bitten by another kid on the playground, and he has a fever that won’t break…
The play is at its best, however, in the future-set scenes, as Mia (Belle Caplis) stands guard at their barricaded apartment building when Marshall (Eric Keuhnemann) is trapped across the street. The majority of these scenes play out with Caplis onstage alone, interacting with Marshall via walkie-talkie. They joke, seduce, and fight with the closeness and affection you expect from a couple that has been through major trauma. Caplis does most of the heavy lifting in these scenes with a wonderful grounded presence, and the moments we see her reacting without pushing the TALK button on her walkie create a lovely intimacy between her and the audience. Keuhnemann deserves commendation too, for being an even player in these scenes despite not physically appearing onstage.
Zombie outbreaks have become a popular theme for everything from 5Ks to Jane Austen novels, but playwright Dave Lankford brings a new twist to the genre by focusing not on the chaos of an outbreak but the quiet moments of calm in between. (Dare I say he’s breathed new life into the well-worn trope?) It’s a smart look at how relationships evolve, roles can change and, even in a crisis, there’s always a way to move forward.