The witty dialogue and plot entanglements are still there. Oscar Wilde's satirical depiction of Victorian society is still funny. It's just that this particular version of The Importance of Being Earnest, adapted by Freefall Theatre artistic director Eric Davis, includes the walking dead.
The premiere of The Importance of Being Earnest With Zombies, which Davis also directs, opens this weekend. The cast is psyched about delivering a fresh take on a classic.
"A great part of Wilde's original text is still very much intact," said Kelly Pekar, who plays Gwendolen Fairfax, "but we happen to be in the throes of a zombie apocalypse."
Pekar appeared in a Missouri production of The Importance of Being Earnest in July, and said it is "exciting to do it reinvented." She and Nick Lerew, are Freefall's first resident company members. Both will appear in all seven productions this season and participate in educational and promotional events.
Lerew, last seen as the older Patrick in Mame, has gotten a kick out of the mash-up movement that inspired Davis, including the novel Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters and the film Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.
"It's fun to have our own brand of zombie," Lerew said.
So who are these zombies who gradually take over the show?
They are former humans who have succumbed to an infection, usually something that began with a cut or a bite. They are speechless and have only the most primitive motor skills, and are governed by a "hive mind."
To nail that effect, the cast has worked extensively with movement coach Adam Graham and fight choreographer Blake Braswell. The fight scenes might be the favorite part of rehearsal for cast member Jennifer Christa Palmer, who plays Miss Prism.
Like the character in the original play, her Miss Prism still serves as governess and teacher to young Cecily, with the minor alteration that the course curriculum now consists of vampire hunting and demonology.
Palmer said she had always wanted a role in Earnest, which lampoons the formalities and restrictions of Victorian society.
"I think it sort of brings the ridiculousness and hilarity of the obsession with minutiae even more to light," she said, "because now they're having this discussion about muffins and marriage in the face of a zombie apocalypse."
Our culture is more obsessed with the undead than ever, from the films of George Romero to TV shows about them.
"We can't get away from it," Lerew said. "I get home after a long day's rehearsal. I'm like, 'Okay, let's just cut back. Let's go on Netflix and kind of check out.' And then I open it up and it's The Walking Dead."
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