Night of the Living Dead: The Puppet Show
Wisconsin Sickness recently grabbed me by the throat and said, “Hey listen up jerk. You’re going down to The Oriental Theatre in Milwaukee on October 27, 2011.”
“W…why?” I managed to squeak out through my collapsing vocal chords.
“Because Angry Young Men, LTD and The M.U.T.E.S. are performing ‘The Night of the Living Dead Puppet Show’ and we want a review.” Then everything got dreamy and dark. Upon waking I wondered why they felt the need to come on so strong. After all, any decent human being loves zombies. Those rotten little revenants have captured the hearts of America better than any sappy Lee Greenwood song could ever hope. Zombies are practically poised to oust Cthulhu as the cuddliest most beloved destructors of humanity. Sorry Mad God, the corpses have you seriously outnumbered. The more people you kill, the more enemies you’ll create. If only the Ancient Ones hadn’t subscribed to the U.S. foreign policy.
It is now roughly 48 hours since the show and I’m looking at my notebook “spootlights, cookie mo nster ate brins” is scrolled across the page in spasmatic hand writing. It turns out I can’t write notes in a dark theatre. I’m glad I have a good memory.
I couldn’t imagine a better venue to watch such a unique show. The Oriental is beautiful and intimidating all at the same time. The décor is a bizarre oriental amalgamation. I sat in the darkening theatre being stared at by statues of enormous gilded asians with glowing green eyes. After a couple of minutes zombie puppets with peculiar Franco-Germanic accents began wandering through the theatre heckling the crowd, their black hooded puppeteer slaves in tow. This would be an interesting night, I was sure.
Angry Young Men, LTD and their puppets started things off. A puppet that looked and sounded suspiciously like Cookie Monster opened the show with a Sesame Street inspired skit. The hungry puppet worked out the phonetics of the word “brains” before cannibalizing a smaller, more helpless version of himself.
The M.U.T.E.S. (The Marvelous Unspeaking Troupe of Entertaining Scoundrels) came up next with a series of silent film inspired comedy skits. The first, and the best, was titled “The Clockwork Boy”. A scientist creates a wind-up boy in an attempt to win the heart of a lovely young lady. It was the best (and only) example of steampunk pantomime romance I’d ever seen. Two other skits followed. “The Prince of Darkness and the Show Girl” (where we learn exactly what happens when a vampire is confronted with a copy of “Twilight”) and “Yawn of the Dead”, a Keystone Cop inspired Romero-nightmare where bumbling cops hole-up in a general store besieged by a legion of flesh-hungry zombie puppets.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the two skits were broken-up by a choir of zombies grunting out Ludwig Von Beethoven’s “An Ode to Joy” as they were cruelly assassinated by our undead Emcees.
After a sing-a-long of “Z is for Zombie” by our brain starved Cookie Monster (now identified as “Zombie Monster”) it was time for the feature presentation, “Night of the Living Dead!”
The 1968 George A. Romero film is the movie that took zombies from being rather boring, brainless voodoo slaves and turned them into decomposing, world conquering cannibals. The movie has been lauded by critics for being a realistic, atmospheric horror bold enough to star an African American leading man. It also dared to make a social commentary about the Civil Rights movement in 1960s America. But it’s also been lampooned for being slow, cheaply made, and sexist. I was worried which camp Angry Young Men, LTD fell into.
Mere minutes into the show it became clear this show was created by people who had an intense love for the source material. The original film score was used as Barbara and Johnny drove through the darkness, the license plate of their car reading “68-GAR.”
The iconic cemetery scene (“They’re coming to get you Barb-a-rah!”) unfolded while a Bill Hinzman zombie puppet wandered-in from the crowd culminating in a gory slap fight between Johnny and the ghoul.
The show successfully parodied the film scene-for-scene, never taking a cheap-shot at NOTLD’s expense (and taking out some of the slower bits). They successfully captured the hopelessness of an old farmhouse surrounded by an army of the walking dead while keeping the audience in hysterics.
The puppeteers were skilled enough to garner a sincere “aww” from the crowd as the infected little girl in the basement (portrayed by a sock puppet) whimpered out the famous line “I hurt!” and immediately won back the crowd as a zombie comedically beat a reporter to death with his own arm.
The troop also successfully updated NOTLD’s political commentary. At the end as the redneck posse moves in to clear out the last of the ghouls, a southern-fried Tea-Partier shouts and laughs “take that 99%!” and “take that Occupy This!” as cray paper blood and candy alternately fly into the audience from exploded zombie skulls.
Until this show I had heard of neither The M.U.T.E.S. or Angry Young Men, LTD. Now I’m a fan of both. The show was a unique blend of alternative comedy, a sort of geek-chic Vaudeville. I recommend everyone check out these talented performers.
I just hope the next time Wisconsin Sickness wants to strangle me, they send some Cannibelles.