Co-director Dylan Mosley compares keeping track of the Star Bar Players' current production of Night of the Living Dead to a three-ring circus. He's sent his zombies out to the parking lot of Cottonwood Center for the Arts, host venue for the show, to practice "greeting" guests when he makes time to speak to me. It's a Monday rehearsal for the show, co-director Bob Morsch's original (and faithful) adaptation of the now-public-domain 1968 classic.
"From the moment you park your car, you're going to be parking in the midst of a zombie horde," he says. "The ushers will be torch-wielding liaisons. They will escort you safely into the theater."
That undead mob in the parking lot is only one aspect of why the hour-long play is as complicated as it is. Another factor that makes this play challenging and unique: the splatter effects, blood and gore.
"Live theater isn't usually quite this gory, so hopefully people will [respond to that]," says Mosley.
The corn-syrup blood effects are a key tribute to the film, which made waves with its grisly effects. Onstage, the zombies spurt blood when shot. They've also prepared a few choice gore effects for the poor humans who are devoured alive.
"[There's] a moment where one of the zombies will chew another actor onstage, and it looks like they're chewing something, where they actually bite into somebody and something actually comes back," he says.
But that gristly business isn't the only step Star Bar has taken toward authenticity. Like the film, the play is staged in black and white. Most of the props and costumes are in shades of gray. While the characters' makeup doesn't read monochrome under the color-desaturating lighting scheme, the black blood looks perfect.
But for all of these aesthetic decisions, Mosley says the dramatic core of the story also has to hold up.
"There's a nice balance between actual theatrical moments between people, between characters," he says. "There are actually several sweet or harsh moments of growth and loss." It's not Shakespeare, to be sure, but the characters read clearly enough to entertain. And, crucially, it's a fun show, with effects and retro-style fight choreography standing as its strongest elements.