It's October and zombies are breaking out all over -- even in a new opera. | Theater | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

It's October and zombies are breaking out all over -- even in a new opera.

Citizens are advised to stay in their homes and listen to this broadcast until Evenings in Quarantine: The Zombie Opera is under control. It runs Oct. 15-23 at the Grey Box Theatre, in Lawrenceville. Residents are bloodied, then partially eaten -- a local tradition.

The doors and windows of our house have been boarded up. A lonely zombie has been hitting the window with a brick for three hours, trying to exterminate conservatism and cause a cultural revolution. Or eat us. When she gets you, which she will, she'll taste the preservatives in your flesh. After that, you'll eat your friends and family.  

In 1968, an unknown Carnegie Institute of Technology graduate named George A. Romero doused unrecognizable actors with chocolate sauce and invented the modern zombie. The original Night of the Living Dead suggests we are all demons feasting on the flesh of those we love. Forty years later, Pittsburgh still crawls with "slow walkers" each October.  

"We're so proud to have them here in Pittsburgh," says Liz Rishel of zombies. She and Bonnie Bogovich are co-creators (and co-stars) of Evenings, a world-premiere, multimedia horror story featuring live singers who interact with an original, full-length, locally shot zombie film projected behind them. Rishel and Bogovich met at Duquesne University, where both majored in music composition. 

The 10-person cast sings an 11-song score including rock and techno tunes. One number, "Screaming," mixes classical drama and modernist themes: hysteria in high octaves. Stage tricks simulate gore: fabric guts, red ribbons and tinsel blood. The PG-13 production is supported by grants from the Heinz Endowments and the Sprout Fund.

From Shaun of the Dead to "zombie walks" for charity, Evenings is just the latest embodiment of a zombie revival  

"Zombies have crept into the culture in a lot of ways," said Joe Kane, author of the new book, Night of the Living Dead: Behind the Scenes of the Most Terrifying Zombie Movie Ever (Citadel).

Night of the Living Dead "was a hybrid of the ultimate horror movie plus social criticism," the longtime genre-movie critic for the New York Daily News says in a phone interview. Kane says the film's cast and crew spent a lot of time behind the scenes talking about Vietnam and civil rights, and their conversations translated to the film more than they intended.

In the film, although heated arguments take place between actors of different races, race is never explicitly mentioned. As little Karen cannibalizes her mother and father, so too did a generation of children, metaphorically. Kane asserts that Romero didn't mean the original movie to be about society; it was about zombies. But revisiting it, we survivors can observe the terrifying cultural changes after the fact.  

Bogovich and Rishel conceived their Evenings in Quarantine characters as real people with real problems. One character's internal dilemma revolves around her military father.  

"With zombies, things never work out the way you want them to," says Rishel.

Meanwhile, on Oct. 10 -- declared "World Zombie Day" by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl -- a massive zombie walk took place in Market Square. The idea of the annual walk was launched by Pittsburgh's Mark Menold in 2006, at Monroeville Mall -- site of Romero's Dawn of the Dead. It drew more than 1,000 zombies, a Guinness World Record.

Menold, a.k.a. Professor Emcee Square of WBGN-TV's horror-themed It's Alive Show, founded World Zombie Day in 2008. It's now a global charity event, with participants in dozens of cities encouraged to donate canned goods.

"Anybody can be undead," says Menold.

On Oct. 23, at Monroeville Mall, you can also participate in the Zom-B-Rama carnival, hosted by the group Monroeville Zombies. Actor Ken Foree, who survived the zombie outbreak in Dawn of the Dead, will emcee a costume pageant. 

Maybe we didn't board the place up strong enough. 


Evenings in Quarantine Fri., Oct. 15-23. Grey Box Theatre, 3595 Butler St., Lawrenceville. $15-20.

Monroeville Zombies' Zom-B-Rama carnival and costume pageant. 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Sat., Oct. 23. Monroeville Mall. 412-373-4303

It's October and zombies are breaking out all over -- even in a new opera.
This city is dead: Greg Ochaba (center), of Butler, joins the fun at World Zombie Day, Oct. 10 at Market Square.