Please Remain Calm didn’t wait until the house lights went down and all were seated to reel in the audience, it grabbed me, zombies and all, out on Grand Avenue. The retro television cut-out in the Kranzberg lobby further piqued my interest but the 1950’s Rod Serling flavored news radio broadcast ensured that playwright, Carole Lanham was not messing around. It had all the smacking of a Twilight Zone episode blended in part with Quentin Tarantino and a smidge of Mystery Science Theatre 2000. Three time USA Today-best selling author Lanham tells her story in three scenes, two in a closet and one in the high school auditorium.
It appears the people of Lloyd Bridges, Indiana have fallen victim to an illness that may or may not require you to shoot the afflicted. I’d check with Commissioner Wade Johnson, played hilariously by Bill Blanke to clarify before you take those extreme measures. Annemarie Cartwright, a freshly quarantined 1950’s neurotic teen, played well by Grace Boyer, opens the show and helps set the scene at the Junior/Senior High School. Boyer is joined by multiple characters in a closet where those feared to be infected are not so lovingly placed. The teens, school custodian, and a teacher explain what the rumored cause is for the town’s affliction and it closes with some affirmation. We get to meet more of the local inhabitants in the school auditorium, think a darker version of Harper Valley PTO.
Directors Chris and Carole Lanham comically succeed in bringing out the best, which is also the worst, in these inhabitants of Lloyd Bridges, portrayed hilariously and sometimes a little too close to home for this small town reviewer. Lanham’s 45-minute production was an adaptation of a longer play she wrote back in 2013. It was no surprise that the writer’s work had appeared on the preliminary ballot for a Bram Stoker Award. Her fondness for dark historical fiction shines in this 1950’s zombie story. Chris Lanham wrote the entertaining radio script. If I could just get that Kil-Magic jingle out of my head. The actors had just as much fun on the stage as the author must have had writing the script. Annoying PTA Chair, Dodie Haskal Hemplewhite was played brilliantly by the talented Rhonda Phillips while David Rush authentically played the nervous (with good reason) Kil-Magic salesman. Bill Blanke gives a hilarious, memorable performance as the “please remain calm folks” police Commissioner Johnson.
The minimal set was well designed by Chris Resimius and the cast of authentic looking zombies were played well in part thanks to the special effects team of Elsa Peralta, Ashley Martin, Elena Estrada, and Resimius, who lent a hand with the zombie fight sequence. Yes, this show has a zombie fight sequence, in case you needed another reason to see it. This fan of vintage clothing gushed a time or two over the period costuming.
I know, I know, you are thinking another zombie show but think zombie with a twist. Lanham has done a wonderful job of exploiting the worst in these small town relatable characters. It’s appropriate for all ages and all senses of humor including fans of pulp fiction 1950’s zombie stories. Please Remain Calm runs August 17-26 in Grand Center at the Kranzberg, 501 N. Grand Blvd. St. Louis, MO 63103. Tickets are $15 and available at Metrotix.