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The Real Nightmare Before Christmas

The Psycho Clan's The Experiement aims to shame you into the holiday spirit.

Have you recently experienced an existential meltdown in an elevator to the tune of Wham's "Last Christmas?"

Does the mere concept of passing another improperly-lit plastic menorah in a lonely lobby make you nauseous?

Perhaps most important: does the idea of wearing a makeshift Santa costume in front of an audience while a high-school-aged "elf" tries to seduce you -- while your significant other is trapped in a box filled with packing peanuts -- not make you nauseous?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, consider seeking out Timothy Haskell and the Psycho Clan's Nightmare (Before Christmas): The Experiment, currently running until December 23 at the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center on the Lower East Side. A combination of performance art and situational audience manipulation, the Nightmare is designed to do one thing: force audiences into the holiday spirit through the backdoor of terror and shame.

"Christmas is supposed to be a joyful time," co-director Timothy Haskell explains. "For too many, it just isn't. If you don't always feel joy during the holidays, a good scare will trigger those senses. The endorphins that are released during moments of joy and pleasure are the same ones coursing through your nervous system during times of great fright.

So let fear ignite your holiday spirit!"

Plenty of productions lure blasé audiences in with the promise of scares and weirdness. Nightmare puts in extreme — extreme — effort to deliver on its promise. The theatrical production/structured-torture begins outside the theater, in CVC's lobby bar. (We recommend the spiked cider. It's delicious, and you will most likely need it. Order four.) After improv-interrogating audience members about their sex life and potential allergies to rubber, three "scientists" escort participants into the theater for ten "experiments." Audiences members are told that these experiments test and explore their different fears, including humiliation, dread, and the fear of pain.

While rubber prosthetic hands account for more than half of Nightmare's gimmicks, thrill-seekers be warned: this show is not a tepid haunted house, or peep-show for voyeurs. Audience participation is near-mandatory—as in if you show up, you will be forced to participate. And participation may involve the removal of your clothes for a public shaming/weigh-in, interaction with a subway rat, and/or smelling a stranger's shoes, then naming the odor best associated with said shoes in front of a live audience.

New York is blanketed with heartfelt holiday shows that charm, warm and cheer. Nightmare (Before Christmas): The Experiment aims to alienate, chill and humiliate.

And who's to say a little humiliation won't be helpful this time of year? The Psycho Clan might want to think of rebranding their show: Nightmare: an $18 prep course for your family Chistmas party.