They’re Puppets—They’re All Messed-Up
Not many people had shown-up—maybe a dozen or so. There was a silent stillness to the Bucketworks performances space. The Angry Young Men puppet-based stage adaptation of Night of the Living Dead hadn’t really been advertised and it appeared as though only Bucketworks types had shown-up. Things started promptly at 6pm for what would turn out to be a half hour puppet show. Angry Young Men had cut Romero’s original 90 minute movie down by a third, cutting much of the director’s moodiness. Moodiness is not all that important to a puppet parody of a 40 year-old horror film, but the production, which was first staged last year, is not wihouty its charm. Not all of the scenes are represented, but all the major plot points whisk through the stage in an adaptation that’s plenty of fun for people unfamiliar with the film, while still managing a few in-jokes for those of us more familiar with it.
The puppets in question are of the one-handed, floating torso variety. Puppeteers dressed in black work heads and mouths with the right hand while using the left arm to represent the right arm of the puppet. The child in the story was cleverly represented by a sock puppet, which actually makes its big zombie reveal at the end of the story kind of creepy. The rest of the zombie puppets had piñata heads, shooting out shiny red rags at the beginning of the show and fruity candy in the big finale. Zombie puppt death is actually quite vivid and dynamic. There's clever irony in watching audience members chewing on starburst candies that had served as zombie brains.
Throughout the production, there are quite a few puppet-based jokes. When Barbara walks into the trophy room of the abandoned farmhouse, we see a bunch of animal puppet heads stuffed and mounted on the wall—look closely and you’ll see Kermit the Frog among them. Funny. The muppet/puppet vibe going on throughout the show amplifies the humor. There are real moments when the overarching horror feel of the story sets-in, but it always ends up getting mocked by the very nature of the puppets themselves. We see the puppets bobbing along across the stage as they walk from one location to another like Bert and Ernie in A Nightmare on Sesame Street or some such . . . very funny stuff.
The biggest problem with the production is probably the puppets themselves. The fact that zombies kind of move like puppets could’ve bee played-up for comic effect a bit more consistently. The living, non-zombie puppets are pretty crude and as such don’t have much of a range of emotion, which is absolutely essential for decent comedy. A lack of facial movement can be safely ignored in other adult puppet comedies like Avenue Q, but the performance space at Bucketworks is lot more intimate and even if you’re only looking to identify with these characters for comic effect over the course of a half an hour, it would really help if these characters could at least blink. These are fairly minor details in an otherwise enjoyable half hour.
The final performances of the Night of the Living Dead Puppet Show are on Saturday, November 1st at Bucketworks on 1340 North 6th Street as a part of its haunted house. The performances are at 8 and 10pm.