Zombies vs. cannibals

Blue Room Late Nite returns with full schedule of gory, campy goodness

<br> YEAH, THEY’RE DEAD Blue Room Late Nite honcho Craig Blamer is surrounded by a couple of the zombies (Josh Carter, left and Will Owen) from the theater’s recent production of Night of the Live Dead.

YEAH, THEY’RE DEAD Blue Room Late Nite honcho Craig Blamer is surrounded by a couple of the zombies (Josh Carter, left and Will Owen) from the theater’s recent production of Night of the Live Dead.

Photo By matt siracusa

It was late Saturday night when a loud, hollow boom rang out in downtown Chico. A woman’s body went limp and fell to the floor as blood sprayed across the door she had just been peering through. She lay dead in an empty living room, all the windows boarded up, cigarette butts and Sierra Nevada beer bottles scattered about, picture frames hung slanted on the peeling wallpaper—she was the last to die.

A startled crowd sat silent … then broke out into applause … then hit the bars.

It’s no longer safe to assume that those shrieks and screams echoing off the buildings in downtown Chico on weekends are just the result of the Chico party scene. As the Blue Room Theatre’s recent blood-soaked production of Night of the Live Dead has shown, the theater’s raucous Late Nite series has risen from the grave and taken its place on the night’s stage once again.

Once a Blue Room staple, the on-again, off-again Late Nite series began in the mid-’90s with the introduction of its infamous The Twilight Zone Live, featuring live re-creations of episodes from the early-’60s television series. Last June, Late Nite veteran (and CN&R contributor) Craig Blamer was elected “head honcho” of Blue Room’s latest reincarnation of the series, officially springing it out of its “sporadic hiatus.”

Blamer wore a black leather jacket, fedora-like black hat and glasses over his pristine blue eyes as he talked about the series, including the just-closed production of NOTLD, which he also directed.

The play was based on George Romero’s 1968 film, Night of the Living Dead, and Blamer transcribed the script word-for-word in preparation for his stage version. A self-described “student of the horror film,” the 46-year-old Blamer first saw the movie at a drive-in with his parents when he was 6 years old, and he characterized it as “pretty punk for its time.” At that time, Blamer said, it was the most nihilistic film that had ever been made, and he remained surprisingly faithful to the script, with only a few changes.

“I made it contemporary and I made it local,” said Blamer of his version of the play, which takes place outside of Orland, in a two-room farmhouse that becomes a refuge for a group of strangers when a zombie outbreak occurs. Between the opening scene in a remote cemetery and the final gunshot and blood-splatter, NOTLD is 45 minutes of green-faced zombies and blood-soaked clothes, Molotov cocktails and locals sparking up doobies to deal with the stress of flesh-eating zombies.

“We’re all fucked,” Blamer summed up. In other words, a production custom-built for late-night crowds.

On the schedule in the wake of the just-closed NOLTD is next week’s Cannibal! The Musical (opening April 10), which was written by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone and is described as “‘Oklahoma!” with teeth and cowbell.” New episodes of the The Twilight Zone Live are also on the way (April 30), in addition to Off the Cuff, a weekly improvisation program on Wednesdays.

“Late Nite has sometimes been dismissed in the local acting community as sort of the bastard of Chico theater,” Blamer said, but “screw that noise.” He admits Late Nite shows generally aren’t as polished as others being mounted around town, but because the actors don’t usually have ample rehearsal time, there is an air of unpredictability about Late Nite. Sometimes things can take a turn “off the page,” resulting in what Blamer calls “extreme theater.”

It’s also a great training ground for entry-level actors, tech folks and directors. And it’s a generally spooky and edgy tradition.

Blamer calls Late Nites “the perfect cocktail,” dark, with a comic edge. “[It’s] my ideal of theater,” he said, adding, “Get butts in the seats at 10:30, give ’em an hour of entertainment and cut ’em loose before 11:30 so they can hit the bars.”

Like Blamer tells his actors, “If you’re having fun, the audience is having fun. And if the audience is having fun, I’m having fun.

“So, it’s all really about me,” Blamer said. “And I’m having fun, so something’s going right.”