Dark Dark Ride Ride offers a manic excursion into the netherworld of Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre.
Zombie Joe’s latest production is one wild ride – literally. Dark Dark Ride Ride: Holiday Nightmare places its audience inside small wooden carts and sends them zooming through a winter wonderland where Peace on Earth and Goodwill toward Men are in short supply, replaced by outrage, perversion, and demented humor. Nice and rosy, comfy and cozy it’s not; however, the headlong rush of the experience provides a more high-energy experience than other shows at ZJU Theatre.
The tension begins outside on the sidewalk, where you fill out a waiver and then close your eyes before being admitted inside. Oh my god – now what happens? Well, you open your eyes and sit in one of two carts (which hold up to two people). Then the ride begins – and quite a trip it is.
The theatre is completely dark except for dim dotted lights scattered on the floor, walls, and carts. With no clear reference point, the sense of speed is disorienting, and the constant twists and turns make it all but impossible to estimate distance, creating the illusion of moving through a vast void (quite an impressive trick when you know the actual space limitations).
At regular intervals, the carts careen to a stop, and your “driver” (who is actually pushing the cart from behind) flashes a black-light on actors painted in luminescent colors, each of whom delivers a soliloquy, performs a dance, or makes a lewd proposition. Before you have time to make sense of it, out goes the light and the ride resumes, quickly thrusting you face to face with your next bizarre encounter.
The experience rushes by so fast it might not matter too much that most of the characters are not closely related to the season except for the repeated “joke” of saying “Merry Chrysler” instead of “Merry Christmas.” The highlight comes when Marley’s Ghost makes a memorable appearance, lamenting his ponderous chain. Otherwise, the denizens of this dark underworld are more keeping with the usual tone of a Zombie Joe show: a sleazy Santa holds a miniature Christmas Tree over his naked groin and asks if you want to open the present underneath, and there is a pretty amazing dance routine performed beneath swirling green ribbons of light that lend an almost abstract quality of the half-naked bodies.
Perhaps the best thing about these variable vignettes is the carefully delivered punchline, whispered by the driver into your ear as the scene ends. Our favorite followed an encounter with a particularly lewd woman, prompting our driver to quip, “Fun fact: she’s a virgin.”
At the end, you leave your cart and exit through a small room in back where an orgy is taking place, involving, among others, Jesus on a cross. It’s loud and chaotic, but it feels a little too much like an effort to shock an audience that came expecting to see exactly this kind of thing. As the rider in the car next to ours said on the way out, “Yeah, that’s a Zombie Joe show.”
Ultimately, Dark Dark Ride Ride is more a journey than a destination. The ride itself is more than half the fun – a dizzying wild rush at least as memorable as the stops along the way.
Dark Dark Ride Ride Rating
Dark Dark Ride Ride: Holiday Nightmare continues Wednesdays-through-Saturdays until December 21. Rides start at 15-minute intervals from 8pm to 11:45pm nightly.
Ages 18+. A release-waiver to be signed at the door, prior to entry.
Tickets are $35 per ride, for 1-2 persons. A Portion of proceeds benefit local charities serving the homeless.