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Deviants, you say?

Almost serious, but not really /Image: Bruce Vasselin
Almost serious, but not really /Image: Bruce Vasselin

Why we love Rocky Horror

Article: Ethan Stein – Contributor

The Rocky Horror Show is unique in that its execution is overshadowed by its identity. In my experience, discussions about TRHS (or its feature film counterpart) focus on the passionate fan base, the rituals and activities done throughout the show (i.e. throwing objects during specific scenes), or the work’s focus on transvestites and the resulting legacy in a culture that’s (mostly) welcoming of the LGBT community. People rarely discuss how these elements unite to create an experience that’s one part talk show, one part viewing party, and pure fun.

The plot follows newlyweds Brad Majors and Janet Weiss, whose car breaks down during a rainstorm. While walking through the storm to find shelter and a telephone, they come across a castle housing enigmatic and deviant individuals who relish the opportunity to corrupt the sheltered married couple. From there, as Brad and Janet gradually indulge their sexual temptations and become more corrupt, the narrative gradually veers develops into a hazy, sex-fueled trip that ends with space travel.

The production has an air of uncertainty and deviance permeating everything, even the pre-show. A strange haze surrounds the stage. There’s a strangely routine atmosphere amongst the audience, as men and women clad in lingerie and pale make-up shuffle throughout the theatre finding seats. Some of the audience honk horns in response to one another. The crowd grows increasingly giddy.

The lights dim, the crowd cheers, and the lone figure on stage is the narrator of the play. Rocky Horror’s narrator serves the dual roles of narration and banter with the audience. He tells sexual jokes of every variety. He acknowledges the play barbs from the audience, telling one member “if I wanted my comeback I’d scrape it off your mother’s teeth!” and generally acts as a talk show host delivering an opening monologue. This role is ripe with pressure to keep the audience engaged, but Chris Mooney is more than suited for the role.

“The chances of our student body president gallivanting in women’s underwear again are considered somewhat unlikely.” 

Another standout is URSU President Nathan Sgrazzutti as Brad. He plays the straight-laced (and wound too tightly), self-obsessed goofball role with enthusiasm and no signs of stage fright. If you ever wanted to see Sgrazzutti parade around in an impromptu lingerie show, your strangely specific interest is entertained here. The chances of our student body president gallivanting in women’s underwear again are considered somewhat unlikely.

Really, all the actors proved fit for the heavy lifting demanded of their roles. Zane Buchanan is fabulous and slightly deranged as Frank N Furter, capable of working under any conditions (when his stage mic came loose he re-attached it and claimed in character that he was adjusting his sex toy). Braeden Woods proved he had the both the singing and acting chops to breathe life into his role as the hunchbacked Riff Raff.

One of TRHS’ defining traits is the Amazing Phantoms. For those unfamiliar, the Phantoms act as lingerie and leather-clad extras serving various functions in the play. They do everything from interact with the characters (terrorizing Brad and Janet) to acting as scenery (Phantoms will line up to act as a giant door, shuffling to the side when a character opens the makeshift door). The Phantoms add to the show’s identity as a unique, genuinely intriguing theatrical piece rather than a humorous celebration of sexual deviance.

Audience participation acts as both communal bonding and an unexpected level of immersion for the play. Actions like the audience snapping rubber gloves in unison serve as playful participation that contribute to the show’s tone. Other moments like the audience spraying water guns to simulate rain, or blowing bubbles during a wedding scene act as moments of surprising immersion that elevate audience participation beyond mere gimmickry.

TRHS’ reputation as an infamously strange spectacle is not incorrect, but there’s far more to the show than it is credited. Although the production ended on Oct 27, everything I’ve examined can apply to previous and future productions alike. The show never strays too far from its giddy, sleazy, sardonic tone and it’s this self-effacing, “almost serious but not really” tone that earns the play its reputation.

The production’s greatest strength however is its stalwart efforts to entertain and immerse first time viewers while enticing them to come to the party next year. TRHS is a machine intricately arranged gears working in highly refined unison. TRHS is method masquerading as madness.

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