When discussing Anton Chekhov’s “Cherry Orchard of the Living Dead,” the new production set to premiere at the Onyx Theatre Feb. 21, there is one important question that needs to be addressed before anything else: Fast Zombies or Slow Zombies?
“Slow Zombies. Totally,” said the play’s author, Troy Heard. “It ties in to the Chekhovian drama. Life in the provinces is so slow and dull that they feel there is no escape. The main characters move just as slow as the zombies do.”
While not all audience members may be familiar with Chekhov’s final play, “The Cherry Orchard,” Heard has made sure that the comedy can be appreciated by all.
“One of the challenges was to make it as accessible as possible,” he said. “If you’ve never seen Chekhov or even heard of Chekhov, you’ll still be able to follow the story, but if you know Chekhov, you’ll have a much deeper appreciation for it. There are references in this show to everything from Chekhov, Shakespeare, “Night of the Living Dead”, Ibsen… there’s even a ‘Brady Bunch’ joke in there.”
Heard wrote the play several years ago, inspired in part by the book “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” He felt Chekhov’s themes were a good fit for a mash-up of classic literature and zombies.
“As a theater student, I’ve worked on a lot of Chekhov,” Heard said. “The characters always want to escape from their small, provincial manor. They want to get to the big city and a new life. That’s kind of the same fight everyone has in a zombie movie.”
The play went through a few drafts over the years but would probably still be gathering dust if Heard hadn’t decided on a whim to apply for a grant from the Nevada Arts Council.
“I didn’t expect anything would come of it,” Heard said. “I was just trying to keep my grant writing skills sharp.”
When the arts council called his bluff, he discovered there was a hole in the Onyx Theatre’s schedule and went into production within a few weeks. He’s been refining the play during rehearsals and has been delighted with the process.
“It’s a great opportunity that not a lot of writers get,” Heard said.
Brandon Burk, the artistic director for the Onyx Theatre, said theater officials were happy to work with Heard again, citing the two or three interesting productions he has done at the theater every year.
“Part of my job is making sure our programming is consistent and high quality,” Burk said. “It’s a small organization with a small staff, but we work with the challenges and have great shows here.”
Past works Heard has brought to the Onyx Theatre include “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” “Blood Orgy of the Chainsaw Chorus Line” and “Hamlet.”
Tickets for “Cherry Orchard of the Living Dead” are $15. For more information, visit onyxtheatre.com
Contact Paradise/Downtown View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-4532.