Some ideas seem so obvious once they’re finally realized that we can only be amazed no one thought of them sooner. In the subgenre of literary/supernatural mashups that began with Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2009 novel “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” and quickly devolved into works like the 2013 movie “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” — which is not a comedy — it’s astounding no one did “Our Town Plus Zombies” until now. After all, Thornton Wilder’s 1938 play prominently features the talking dead.
…the cast is superb.
The impresario of the present work is John Geoffrion — writer, director, producer, and Stage Manager — who has acted in “Our Town” five times. His Capital Fringe show is a pitch-perfect loving parody. The characters are voiced in that slightly-too-affected old-timey New England accent of so many community theatre and high school stagings, and Wilder’s bare set and mimed props are maintained.
Geoffrion imagines an alternate version of Wilder’s Act III — that famed scene where Emily Webb joins the dead as an observer of Grover’s Corners — where all the dearly departed get a chance to walk the streets again. This second chance comes via a comically absurd chemical accident that’s the fault of long-winded Professor Willard from Act I and cartoonish villain Banker Cartwright.
These stout Yankee zombies, however, are less interested in a slow-moving rampage than in just seeing their loved ones again. The allusions in Geoffrion’s script to film noir, melodrama, and theatrical conventions are delightful, but the story is also really quite touching.
And the cast is superb. Tobin Moss is endearing as George Gibbs, who first wants to solve the zombie mystery and later just wants to spend time with his reanimated bride. Steve Rosenthal shifts between Doc Gibbs — stuck in the early stages of grief — and the Mr. Potter-esque Cartwright with aplomb.
Lydia Kraniotis is especially worth notice for her portrayal of the late Mrs. Gibbs. While the entire cast is convincingly ghoulish, Kraniotis takes her performance to another level, with her limbs hanging loose, her jaw always a bit slack, and her head and eyes lolling around.
“Our Town Plus Zombies” is a show that is perfect for Fringe — a simple premise, an intelligent script, a brew of the literary and the whimsical. In short, it’s the sort of show that comes from imagination and love, not a big budget and too many pretensions. You will not regret spending an hour in Grover’s Corners (but get home before dark).
Running Time: 60 minutes.
Advisory: Recommended for ages 13 and up.
“Our Town Plus Zombies” at Riverside Baptist Church Pineapple, 699 Maine Ave SW in Washington, will run through July 25. For tickets and more information, click here.