Posted on Jul 9, 2013
4 out of 5
There are certain pieces of art that have special meaning for those who enjoy them. Perhaps a certain piece of music brings a wave of memories flooding back from a happier time and place. Or a play touches the emotions in a way no other had done before. It becomes personal, part of who we are.
And then... there's Rocky Horror.
Rocky turns 40 this year, and in celebration thereof the Egads! theatre company is putting on a raucous production at the Off-Center Theatre. Rocky Horror is perhaps the very definition of a cult hit, cutting deep into the psyche of its diehard fans. Every week, people gather for midnight showings, gleefully shouting at stages and screens with all the fervor and dedication of the Sunday morning church crowd, and with a good deal more fun. When this reviewer tied the knot on Halloween of 2008, she and her partner capped off their evening of bar hopping with a special midnight screening in a room packed with fans in costume, because she is nothing if not romantic. Judging by the audience at the Monday night showing, this fandom (cultdom?) shows no signs of abatement.
Let's pretend you don't know the plot. When Brad Majors (Noah Whitmore) proposes to Janet Weiss (Mandy Morris), they decide to celebrate by visiting their old friend and tutor Dr Scott (Andrew Schmidt). Fate, in the form of a flat tire, sends them instead to the castle of Dr. Frank N. Furter (Samn Wright) and his minions Riff-Raff (Tyler Elsenreich), Magenta (Breanne Pickering) and Columbia (Stefanie Stevens). While there, they witness the birth of the good doctor's creation (Tim Caster), are tricked, trapped, stripped, zapped, licked, tweaked and put through every conceivable wringer until come the dawn and they stagger out of the castle, innocence (and nearly everything else) lost.
Those who have been to the movie may wonder if there is a significant difference. To be sure, there are some minor plot changes. A few songs are switched around, and a couple are present that were excised from the movie version. But the the main difference is this: this is an audience participation show. Fun as it is to yell at a screen (and who doesn't?), this is a live show, with live actors, and they participate right back. Half of the fun last night was hearing all the different catcalls and seeing the performers react or, on occasion, throw in a few of their own. Also, in a movie, one doesn't get pulled up onto the stage at the end to dance the Time Warp (despite not having done so in years--ahem--and consequently turning to be somewhat out of practice).
The Off-Center Theatre is what we in the trade call an intimate space, which is a nice way of saying you can't swing a cat in the place. Fortunately, director Steven Eubank's creative team have done a good job of squeezing the show into the space, but viewers in the front row should be prepared to scoot your legs back once in a while. The castle props and sets are interesting, particularly the Rube Godlbergesque Sonic Transducer. The lighting and sound were quite good, though some light cues did seem to be a notch on the tardy side.
As far as performances went, they were generally very good all round, with the two principals showing off particularly fine voices. Eisenreich's Riff Raff is perhaps a better singer than actor, but his acrobatic skill is a definite plus, and very impressive. Schmidt works better as Dr Scott than as Eddie, but this is perhaps understandable as he has rather more to work with in that role. Samn Wright's Frank N. Furter...well, what can one say? There are some roles you simply cannot do halfway: it's all-in or nothing. Wright attacks the role with sly, bitchy gusto and doesn't let go til the very end. Finally, there is Bill Pelletier as The Narrator, slipping pitch-perfect into a role with which he is utterly at home. This reviewer has enjoyed seeing him in other productions (including the Rocky Horror parody from the 2011 Fringe) and it is always good to see him at his work.
The Rocky Horror Show is a curious beast: child of the seventies, but with the scars of the fifties and sixties all over it. It is a sly, knowing wink to the illusions of innocence and the hypocrisy of the exploitation film as morality play that peppered the drive-ins of the nation half a century ago. Over the decades, its fandom has only grown. The 40th anniversary is a bawdy celebration of gleeful raunch, where the performers are having as much fun as the audience, and it shows. This is the last week of the Egads! production, and while last night's performance was more fun than a Monday night should be allowed to have, Rocky Horror belongs to Saturday night. There's just one left for this run; readers who have not yet caught the show are advised to grab the opportunity while they still can.