The gender-bending Rocky Horror Show is brought back to life at the 1078 Gallery
The gender-bending, genre-blending play that spawned a cult following, and then became a movie that spawned an even more fanatical fan base embedded in the midnight-movie subculture, is back on the boards locally. The musical production that was an annual happening at the old Chico Cabaret theater has been absent from local stages for more than three years, and now a new group of local thespians is bringing The Rocky Horror Show to the stage, or more precisely the floor, of 1078 Gallery for the next few nights.
Producing a full rock ’n’ roll spectacle, complete with live musical accompaniment in a space that’s essentially designed to facilitate quietly milling about while examining the stuff that’s hanging on the walls (this week: the lovely group show Confluences) presents what might be overwhelming technical challenges for pretty much any other musical. But since the The Rocky Horror Show is largely fueled by enthusiastic audience participation in the form of ritualized heckling and talismanic prop brandishing by those in attendance, this erasure of the boundary between players and audience actually makes sense. As the show’s director, Don Eggert, says in his program notes, “Please relax and enjoy, and shout all you will, but please don’t throw anything—the art on the walls doesn’t appreciate this.”
And there’s a lot to shout about, and above, in this production. As this reviewer found out during Monday night’s dress rehearsal, having an electric rock band—consisting of Bogg members Joshua Hegg (keyboards), Michael Bone (guitar) and Gavin Fitzgerald (bass), joined by drummer Landon Moblad—supply the backing music elevates the volume level in the cement-floored gallery to the point where cast members’ microphones are often pushed to the limit of coherent audibility, but one hopes that another rehearsal will lead to adjusted levels and that audience sing-alongs will compensate for any auditory overkill.
With 12 main players and 15 assorted “Transylvanians” and “Theatre Phantoms” on and off stage at all times, not including the band, The Rocky Horror Show does provide a striking visual spectacle, particularly as most of the cast is clad in various forms of underwear and lingerie, not all of it gender-appropriate, most of the time.
That’s right. This is a play about sex. Sure, it’s also about comically cross-referencing as many schlock science-fiction and horror-movie tropes as possible while simultaneously lavishing the audience with rock ’n’ roll cabaret tunes, but mostly it’s about sex, or spoofing sex, or satirically examining sexual attitudes and stereotypes: cross-dressing, cross-purposed, double-crossing sex. Which means it’s a lot of fun. And the cast has a lot of fun with it. And audiences hungry for Rocky’s return will no doubt have a blast.
Jonah Nilsson and Kasandra Partain as Brad Majors and Janet Weiss, respectively, play the straight-laced young couple whose car’s flat tire sends them to the castle occupied by the nefarious Dr. Frank N. Furter (Brandon Hilty), a cross-dressing, polymorphously perverse mad scientist whose experiments have given life to the Adonis-like but existentially angst-plagued Rocky Horror (Alden Denny). Seeking only to make a phone call, Brad and Janet become the straight world’s unwitting but not completely unwilling expeditionary force into the kinky world of Dr. Frank N. Furter and his castle load of equally odd sidekicks and assistants.
Ashley Garlick as the Igor surrogate, Riff Raff, and Josh Roach as the maid, Magenta, both go all out as campy creeps, and Samantha Deshler as the “groupie,” Columbia, provides a powerful comic presence and voice.
The “plot,” such as it is, is probably too familiar to delineate in this brief survey, but suffice to say that the attitudes of the straight world toward people of alternative sexual orientations and attitudes are comically questioned, satirized, subverted via song-and-dance-enhanced encounters within Dr. Frank N. Furter’s castle.
As a goofy, nostalgia-evoking blast from the past, The Rocky Horror Show does bring us back to the free-for-all intensity of the post-hippie-free-love, pre-AIDS days of the sexual revolution, and it does so with a comic/absurdist sensibility that still resonates with laughter as our current culture still struggles with finding good-humored acceptance for all of its diversely-oriented offspring.