Midnight screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show were a rite of passage for generations of oddballs. Troupes of people dressed like Rocky Horror characters would get onstage and lip-synch scenes from the film—a phenomenon known to initiates as shadow casting. But the whole phenomenon began to lose momentum not long after the film was released on video, and now, with Rocky Horror turning up with numbing regularity on broadcast TV, attendance at Rocky screenings nationwide has dwindled to a faithful few.
And so a new generation has begun a quest for its own Rocky; there have been shadow cast shows of Showgirls; The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert; and The Sound of Music.Shadow cast screenings of John Cameron Mitchell's brilliant, gender-bending musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch have met with some success . . . although, frankly, I've always thought Hedwig was a film that worked just fine without members of the audience hollering out dick jokes in the middle of it. But out of all these post-Rocky midnight shows sprouting up around the country, perhaps none is so delightfully strange and inspired as the Crazed Imaginations troupe's production of South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, which is performed for the second time ever this weekend at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas.
Few films in history would seem less appropriate for a live theatrical adaptation than Matt Stone and Trey Parker's big-screen version of their brilliant and hilarious—if politically irksome—TV series. The film, like the series, is a resolutely 2-D experience in which a good part of the humor comes from the stylized, stiff way that the characters move, jerking around like cheap plastic toys being guided by some kid's unseen hand. A Rocky Horror troupe can throw their costumes together from stuff they find on the Frederick's of Hollywood discount rack and Sav-On's costume aisle at Halloween, but the South Park folk face a far more daunting challenge, devising their own props and costumes to transform themselves into such notables as Saddam Hussein; a giant, flame-red Satan; and the obese, foul-mouthed, eight-year-old terror known as Eric Cartman. Julie Taymor had a few million dollars to throw around when she launched her adaptation of The Lion King on the Broadway stage, but on a budget of approximately nothing, the Crazed Imaginations troupe brings us such wonders as a breakdancing Saddam, Big Gay Al, and those Canadian cut-ups Terrance and Phillip quacking their way through the musical extravaganza known as Uncle Fucka, and I'd say that's a lot more bang for the buck.
While Rocky fans have decades of tradition to tell them exactly when to make a jump to the left and when to take a step to the right and when to holler some 20-year-old quip about Susan Sarandon being a slut, these South Park maniacs are still in their giddy, early days, making up their own new rituals as they go. They helpfully provide audience members with sacks of Ping-Pong balls and paper airplanes to toss at appropriate moments, and the audience response at the first show was so raucous it's a wonder the cops weren't called in.
The enthusiasm that goes into these shows is astonishing. The only real compensation these people get is the giddy appreciation of their audience, so after everything they've done, you owe it to them to head down to Encinitas this weekend and make some noise in the dark.
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The Crazed Imaginations performance of South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut at La Paloma Theater, 471 First St., Encinitas, (760) 436-7469; www.crazedimaginations.net. Sat., midnight. $7.