Aravenous herd of zombies will overtake the South Medford High School stage this weekend as students perform "Night of the Living Dead."

Aravenous herd of zombies will overtake the South Medford High School stage this weekend as students perform "Night of the Living Dead."

Just in time for Halloween, the play is an adaptation of George Romero and John Russo's 1968 cult classic, a film that once generated plenty of controversy.

Students will act out the story of seven people who take refuge from bloodthirsty zombies in an old farmhouse. As stress levels rise, the characters bicker, panic and begin to turn their backs on each other.

Drama Director Mike Fitzgerald said he selected the play in part because of its relevance to society today.

"I think the play is a metaphor for how people become the walking dead," said Fitzgerald, adding that characters in the play are more attached to things than they are to life.

Fitzgerald said the play was once controversial because of its gruesome scenes and because an African-American was cast in the leading role.

Fitzgerald said he chose the play in an ongoing effort to push the envelope of high school theater.

Last year, Fitzgerald directed "Picasso at the Lapin Agile," a Steve Martin play banned at La Grande High School for its sexual content.

Fitzgerald said high schools tend to stay on the safe side, repetitively producing the same traditional plays, and rarely testing boundaries.

"There's such a denial of sexuality," Fitzgerald said. "These kids are 16 to 18 years old; there is so much sexuality for them."

Fitzgerald cast a Hispanic student, Tawny Hernandez, in the leading role, and said students were surprised to learn that the original film was controversial because of race.

Senior Dylan Taylor said he could understand the racial controversy of the film years ago, and of the play now.

"If you look around South (Medford), it is mostly white," said Taylor. "And as much as we'd like to think racism is gone, it still exists."

Taylor plays the role of Tom, a teenage boy who hides from the zombies with his girlfriend Judy, played by Sarah Finear.

Taylor said it was easy to relate to his character.

"My character is extremely innocent and naïve," said Taylor. "I think the author was going for characters symbolic of society. Everyone knows someone like the characters in the play."

Senior Aiden Long said the play isn't a typical production.

"The audience will feel like they are a part of this experience," said Long.

During the show, zombies continually enter and exit the stage from all corners of the room, as zombie hunters pace through the audience.

The play has a total cast of nearly 30, with about half in the zombie ensemble.

The cast partnered with Southern Oregon University for makeup workshops and costume tips, which Fitzgerald said was helpful in recreating the classic story.

"We have some pretty realistic-looking zombies," said Fitzgerald. "It's a little risqué for South Medford."

Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or tristow@mailtribune.com.