Stage & Dance

Review: Actor's Guild's 'Dead' is fun spin on zombie trend

Sharon Sikorski as Queen Elizabeth in Actor's Guild of Lexington's production of William Shakespeare's Land of the Dead.
Sharon Sikorski as Queen Elizabeth in Actor's Guild of Lexington's production of William Shakespeare's Land of the Dead.

We are in the midst of a little backstage drama at William Shakespeare's new Globe Theatre in 1599.

The debut performance of Henry V has just concluded, and there are some congratulations, a lot of griping and colorfully spoken drama. Suddenly, a company member pops in, but he is far from himself. He's lurching, his face is disfigured, and soon, he is chomping on someone's arm.

Zombie!

Well, no one actually says "zombie," because that word was not around in 1599. The Elizabethan characters, including Queen Elizabeth (Sharon Sikorski), conclude this is a plague and lock themselves up in the Globe, much like Rick Grimes' people take refuge in the prison on TV's The Walking Dead.

If you follow Lexington theater much, you know there is only one playhouse where you could see this: Eric Seale's Actors Guild of Lexington.

To an extent, theaters become reflections of their artistic director's sensibilities. Actors Guild has certainly reflected Seale's interests theatrical (David Mamet's November), cultural (The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs), and historical (The Love Song of J. Robert Oppenheimer).

The good thing is Seale's preoccupations are broad and interesting, so he is not by any means wearing people out with his point of view. But knowing his love for Shakespeare and pop culture, Seale was the prime Lexington artistic director to program and direct William Shakespeare's Land of the Dead by John Heimbuch.

Horror and historical/literary mash-ups have become all the rage these days with things like Seth Grahame-Smith's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter.

Heimbuch's script is essentially a vehicle for the conceit. There aren't any great truths to be relayed or story to tell as much as Shakespearean dialogue and historical humor to string together the zombie attacks.

And, of course, the people who are still well need to figure out how to fend off the plague-ridden.

As the title character, Tim Hull has the most to work with. Through the ordeal, Shakespeare grows from being a sullen tool of England's powerful to a an with more genuine self-confidence. He finds he can work with artists who initially threatened him, including tiring Falstaff actor William Kemp (Pete Sears), and stand up to bullies of the monarchy, including Francis Bacon (Matt Seckman).

Save for bloody-faced zombies, Seckman has the showiest role, trying to use Shakespeare's work to advance his own concerns and burnish his position with the queen. Quickly, you are rooting for him to be bitten.

The better you know your Shakespeare and Shakespearean history, the more you will be rewarded by the play that constantly drops the Bard's dialogue from all characters' mouths.

Land of the Dead is a technically ambitious show from several standpoints. Costume designer Natalie Cummins has to outfit a much larger cast than usually traipses across Lexington stages, Jason Tate has numerous fight scenes to choreograph, and the makeup is elaborate and extensive.

The zombie action is a bit varied, from the docile Walking Dead types to some crazed, ravenous killers. Purists might demand more consistency.

But this really isn't a show for purists of any stripe. It's fun, and in his tenure as AGL's artistic chief, we know Seale likes to have fun.


IF YOU GO

'William Shakespeare's Land of the Dead'

What: Actors Guild of Lexington's season-ending production of John Heimbuch's 2008 play.

When: 8 p.m. May 10-11, 17-18; 2 p.m. May 12, 19

Where: AGL, 4383 Old Harrodsburg Rd.

Tickets: $20 adults, $15 students and seniors, $10 military. Available at 1-866-811-4111 or Actors-guild.org.

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