‘The Socky Horror Puppet Show’ at Nu Sass Productions by Justin Schneider

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Sing it with me! “It’s time to play the music / It’s time to light the lights…” Oh, no, wait. That’s those other singing puppets.
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The Socky Horror Puppet Show is the second presentation of Nu Sass Productions, following their debut last year with a sock puppet version of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods. For their sophomore outing, this band of intrepid hosiery is taking on a concert version of Richard O’Brien’s 1973 The Rocky Horror Show. That’s the original stage version, for those of you keeping track at home.

Nu Sass’s venue is The Pinch, a dive bar and local watering hole in Columbia Heights. The Pinch’s lower level is close and cozy; the bar in the back, the video game cabinets, the couches up by the stage, and the low-tech production make you feel like you’re hanging out in a friend’s basement. Nu Sass adds a drinking game to the show, and spends their pre-show time using sock puppets to harass the audience. The whole show has that goofing-around-with-friends feeling, right down to the cast inviting you to karaoke after the late show. It’s a great atmosphere.

Let’s get some things out of the way: Not everyone in the cast can really sing. Not everyone is a great puppeteer. Some of the cast need to spend more time with the words and the music. And at the first performance, the sound system continually insisted on playing the wrong song.

In other words, it has all the makings of an absolutely perfect evening of Rocky Horror.

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Rocky Horror‘s essence isn’t in the script or the performance, but in the strange, crazy love that the fans have for it. This is especially true with the more familiar 1975 film version, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, whose continual midnight showings have made it the longest running film release in history. That love – and that craziness – is demonstrated in spades at Socky Horror. Well, spades and socks. There’s  sock puppets in wheelchairs and sock puppets on motorcycles, sock puppet costume changes and sock puppet nudity, sock puppet murder and sock puppet sex. There’s everything but the sock puppet kitchen sink, and I may have just missed that part. The bigger musical numbers are especially great – you haven’t lived until you’ve seen socks do the Time Warp, or watched a fishnet stocking chase a sock around a crowded basement bar with a dildo in its mouth.

Does the show have any actual problems? Yes, but they’re not problems unique to Nu Sass’s production. While The Rocky Horror Show premiered two years before The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the greater popularity of the film means that the two entities share an uneasy relationship. Veterans of the Picture Show circuit are familiar with the concept of the “callback” – audience members shouting at the film, overdubbing lines and inserting jokes and comments into the silences. The practice started at midnight showings of the film in NYC in the late 70s, and has retroactively creeped its way into the musical. But many callbacks are keyed to the actors, staging, and timing of the film, and don’t slip easily into viewings of the stage musical. Yelling at actors on a stage twenty feet away is also a very different experience from yelling at a giant movie screen, and I wasn’t sure that the cast would have appreciated my shouting at them for an hour and a half straight.

After the performance, a member of the cast did thank my viewing partner and I for the callbacks we did contribute, and mentioned that the company would be more explicit about soliciting audience involvement at the remaining productions. Nu Sass has also delegated one member of their cast to do occasional callbacks from the side of the stage, and the choices are legitimately funny. But I think I would have preferred either the constant stream of profanity and verbal abuse that a good Rocky audience can keep going, or for Nu Sass to have let the musical – superior to the film as it is – speak for itself.

If “amateur sock puppet Rocky Horror” already has you grabbing your coat and rushing out the door, then you absolutely will not be disappointed. The joy that Nu Sass (and their socks) bring to the stage is electric, and if that’s somehow not enough for you then The Pinch’s bar should be able to take you the rest of the way.

Oh, and if it’s your first time seeing Rocky Horror, let the cast know. I promise they won’t humiliate you.

Much.

Running Time: Roughly one hour and 30 minutes, with no intermission.

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The Socky Horror Picture Show plays through March 3, 2013 at The Pinch – 3548 14th St NW, in Washington, DC. There is no admission fee (donations welcome), but to reserve seats email nusassproductions@gmail.com.

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A preview of The Socky Horror Picture Show.