'The Felt Show' blends social satire, foam rubber


Paul Santos rehearses for a presentation of "The Felt Show."

Paul Santos believes there is a substantial buffer a puppet provides that separates an entertainer from his audience.

"People are a lot more critical when they look at a human doing something than as they would with a puppet," says Santos, producer-director-writer of "The Felt Show."

"People give a little more leeway with the puppet. But if you don't go beyond that, people will laugh it off as a gimmick. That newness factor goes by really quick."

Santos and his Lawrence-based troupe have chosen the device to deliver a mix of social satire and goofy sketch comedy presented with multimedia visual gusto.

Some have termed it an "avant-garde theater installation," others an "adult puppet show." But don't expect "Meet the Feebles"-style raunchiness or "Crank Yankers" abusiveness.

"There's nothing that a 13- or 14-year-old kid would encounter that their parents would have a problem with. But the issue is they wouldn't understand half the jokes we're throwing out there," Santos says.

Tonight's episode (10 p.m. at The Bottleneck, 737 N.H.) is being dubbed "Technical Difficulties." Santos says it features "98 percent new material," including skits focusing on the devil being conjured up by kids, Edgar Allan Poe on trial for murder and a future in which elderly people are sent into space and taken care of by robots. ("We witness this old man's daily struggle with his uncaring room," Santos describes.)

The idea began three years ago as a collaboration between Santos and Ben Rumback to employ puppets in a music video. While the show never materialized, the leftover puppets inspired Santos to develop a few sketches around them. Before long, he was enjoying the unlikely gig of opening for bands such as Dogme 95 and Stinking Lizaveta at area music venues.

Now "The Felt Show" has progressed into a complicated production, with five writers, a half-dozen actors and various people taking tech roles in lighting and props.

Between 15 and 20 puppets are utilized, resulting in nearly two hours worth of material.

While few of these foam rubber creations are traditional-looking, Santos is particularly fond of one of them:

"I love the zombie puppets," he says. "It's just one of those singular things that we have that I haven't seen out there."


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