The Rocky Horror Show works best when it is immersive like this—a theatrical party that includes the audience.
The Rocky Horror Show. Book, Music, and Lyrics by Richard O’Brien. Directed by James P. Byrne. Musical Direction by Timothy Lawton. Band Direction by Gene Dante. Costume Design by Scott Martino. Lighting Design by Justin Paice. Video Design by Tim McCarthy. Presented by Oberon and The Gold Dust Orphans at Oberon, 2 Arrow Street, Cambridge, MA, Fridays at 10:30 p.m. through December 2, 2011.
By Alyssa Hall
Looking to party with some sexy aliens in a celebration of campy B movies, glitz, and inhibition? Do the time warp over to Dr. Frank N Furter’s castle (aka Oberon, ART’s second stage) to join in the bash on Friday nights through December 2. Ryan Landry of the fringe theater company The Gold Dust Orphans temporarily forsakes creating award-winning spoofs to host a madcap send-up of a classic spoof, The Rocky Horror Show, just in time for Halloween.
Oberon, with its dance club layout and reputation as the home of the similarly interactive The Donkey Show, fits Rocky Horror as well as the skimpy, disco-mirror-encrusted thong sported by Rocky, the show’s monster creation, fits him, which is to say, perfectly. A dance floor encompasses the center of the space with a low stage in front, a bar in back, a raised middle level of table seating on one side, and a catwalk level around the top. The staging of the show fully utilizes all of these levels in addition to cube platforms that roll around the dance floor.
With action on every side, everyone shares the perspective of naïve protagonists Brad and Janet: stranded in the middle of the madness that is infectious and impossible to escape. Rocky Horror works best when it is immersive like this—a theatrical party including the audience; observing it from afar makes the nonsensical plot and fairly average music and lyrics too obvious.
Ryan Landry easily slips into Tim Curry’s heels and hosting duties as Dr. Frank N. Furter, the transsexual transvestite mad scientist, with a sultry voice, mischievous manner, and old-movie-star presence. His doctor is less menacing than Curry’s and more composed and melancholy, but he remains captivating. Landry’s wistful and intense performance of “I’m Going Home,” sung atop a spotlighted cube that parts a worshipful crowd below him, left the room mesmerized.
A relaxed and welcoming host who wants the audience to enjoy themselves as much as he is enjoying things, Landry improvised occasionally to tailor the show for the audience and sounded genuinely regretful that he could not mingle after the show (there were two performances that night, and he had to prepare for the second).
Other members of the mostly young cast boldly meet the demands of their thinly drawn characters, but lack Landry’s memorable magnetism. Gene Dante nails the standard Brad Majors (overly earnest and woefully confused) with a strong singing voice and exaggerated mannerisms. As Brad’s fiancée, Janet Weiss, Kayla Foster sings a bit shrilly but gleefully embraces the less inhibited Janet later in the show. James Cerne plays Rocky with plenty of guileless self-assurance although he could have supplied more of the puppy-dog eagerness the role needs to make the monster endearing in addition to stupid.
Occasionally, staging choices distract from the fun performance. Stage crew and cast members gently push dance floor denizens around to open lanes for actors and to make room for rolling platforms to pass. While this enhances interaction in theory, the reality is that, because everyone is crammed together, it is difficult to focus on the performance while struggling to avoid both being run over and stepping on other people’s feet. People who dislike crowds or have limited mobility may want to consider table seats.
One other minor seating consideration is worth noting for short people. The lowness of the front stage at the Oberon makes it difficult to fully see scenes on the stage, especially those with crouching or seated actors such as the Narrator (hilariously played by Bill York), from most of the dance floor. Luckily, only a small portion of the action takes place on the front stage, and scenes frequently change locations.
When the main action is obscured, focus on Scott Martino’s brilliant costumes instead. The attire manages to be fashionable and often downright glamorous (like Frank N Furter’s sparkly black and gold corset and cape outfit laced with ebony feathers) while also being vibrant, glittery, scanty, and an absurd mishmash of styles that only aliens could create. Cheeky details and show and pop-culture references also abound. The ensemble Transylvanians sport jaunty hubcap hats, for example, as Frank N Furter sings about getting Brad and Janet a “satanic mechanic” in “Sweet Transvestite,” and Magenta and Riff Raff model Tron-inspired spacesuits outlined with colored, neon lights and dildos fixed on each shoulder.
Nowadays, dildo shoulder pads get laughs instead of gasps. The brazen sexuality and gender-bending in The Rocky Horror Show no longer has much shock value for adults in a culture already saturated with such things. A graphic shadow-puppet sex scene comes closest to being startlingly outrageous (almost as audacious as the felt puppet sex scene in Avenue Q), and illustrates why the show is still inappropriate for children, but all in all, this loving send up of absurd, science-fiction B movies is far more campy and welcoming than it is intimidating. Indeed, the Orphans and creatures of the night seem to feel right at home at Oberon and throw one heck of a house party.