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Outtakes Online: Hawaii’s Callies to discuss zombies
BY MIKE GORDON / email@example.com
Director Markus Wessendorf’s fascination with the undead, which recently took the form of a Kennedy Theatre production called “Uncle Vanya and Zombies,” will hit a high note next week when he hosts a real expert: Sarah Wayne Callies, one of the stars of the AMC hit “The Walking Dead.”
Callies will give a free talk starting at 7 p.m. Dec. 8 at the theater on the University of Hawaii’s Manoa campus. She will also take questions from the audience.
Because the play’s run ended earlier this month, the talk is something of a postscript for Wessendorf’s play, which combined zombies and the gloomy Chekhov melodrama about the frustrated love lives of the Russian intelligentsia. But that’s OK with Wessendorf, who was unable to schedule Callies — who grew up in Hawaii and still has family here — until closer to the holidays.
Wessendorf, an assistant professor in the theater department, hopes Callies will put the zombie phenomena in context — and he fully expects that much of his audience will be more familiar with “The Walking Dead” than Chekov.
“The first episode of the season, which started in October, had the largest audience ever for a basic cable show,” Wessendorf said. “The show is really gory. It is not your usual primetime TV show. For this show to be that successful is stunning. In a certain way, even audience members who know nothing about Chekov will get some idea about why zombies have returned with a vengeance in recent years.”
On “The Walking Dead” Callies was cast as Lori Grimes, a character she described as “a reluctant matriarch.” Her character had a son, a husband whom she initially believed dead, and a lover who was once her husband’s best friend. Early on, Grimes became the emotional center of a group of people trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world filled with flesh-eating zombies. She often told them it is not enough to simply avoid being eaten — they needed to retain the soul of who they are.
But if you’re a fan of the show you know what happened this season: Lori Grimes died in the Nov. 4 episode.
Wessendorf’s play inhabits a familiar landscape: A nuclear disaster at Pearl Harbor has unleashed zombies on Honolulu and has given rise to a reality TV show that stages classic dramas with amateur actors and the walking dead. The director said he a fan of the genre even though he was traumatized for weeks when first saw the cult classic “Night of the Living Dead” back in the 1970s in his native Germany.
Zombies are a metaphor for survival and the apocalyptic landscapes presented in their horrific tales are a metaphor for complete social breakdown — as well as riveting, disturbing, ratings-gathering television. Wessendorf sees them as a cultural expression born in the economic crash of 2008 and notes New York Times and Atlantic Monthly articles that reference the undead.
“The zombie metaphor stands for anything that still goes on even though, objectively speaking, it has died long ago,” Wessendorf said. “So in that sense it is a metaphor for disfunctionality. Policies that don’t work and politicians who promote them. I think it is basically a way of coping with some kind of persistent feeling that we are not in a good spot as a society.”
Although there is no admission charge to see Callies, tickets will only be available at Kennedy Theater starting at 5 p.m. the day of talk. Only one ticket per person will be issued. For more information call the theater box office at 956-7655.
Mike Gordon covers film and television in Hawaii for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter. Read his weekly “Outtakes” column Sundays in the Star-Advertiser.