Let’s do the time warp again
The Rocky Horror Show gets it right by playing it safe
Can't Think Straight
“Don’t dream it. Be it.”
This is the supposed moral of The Rocky Horror Show. Or at least, this is the moral that the play likes to point to as the moral, but more likely, is just another of the play’s tongue-in-cheek moments where it doesn’t mean it says.
The Rocky Horror Show is famous for its subversive and transgressive content, presenting sexualities that are fluid, challenging the so-called normative sexualities embodied in Brad and Janet.
These elements are common to all performances of The Rocky Horror Show, including the performance by a group of local volunteers performing the show as a fundraiser for Do It With Class (DIWC) Young People’s Theatre. The show presents sexualities that are subversive, transgressive, and generally speaking are supposed to challenge the way we understand sexuality.
Or does it?
I think the show, and the performers, think the show presents transgressive sexualities. For what could be more transgressive that presenting what the press release for the show terms as “bisexual mad scientist” transvestite who creates the perfect man – the titular Rocky – as a tool for him to get his rocks off?
Maybe in normative Saskatchewan communities sexualities like this are transgressive, but really, these just a kitschy and quaint diversion from the norm before the actors return to their regular lives. The show plays for camp, and plays it well, being a postmodern pastiche of campy 1950s B-movies, specifically science-fiction and horror films, and a send up to its tropes of created monsters, advanced technology, and alien figures.
And the performance that took place this past weekend gets that. In fact, the performance gets everything about The Rocky Horror Show right. The cast and crew understand exactly what is so appealing about The Rocky Horror Show, and succeeds in giving the audience exactly that: campy, kitschy fun.
The performance, which in previous years has been censored and cleaned up for its teenage cast, gives the audience all of the sex, all of the camp, and all of fun that its adult cast can give it.
But that’s just the problem with DIWC’s production of The Rocky Horror Show: it gets everything that it’s supposed to get right, and just leaves it at that. The show does not give Reginans anything different from what they can usually expect. If you’ve seen the cult-classic film adaptation, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, then you’ve seen the production that I saw this weekend.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The production takes the most enjoyable parts of the film culture, like audience participation, and welcomes it into its performance, offering goodie bags of props to audience members for a small fee so they can throw the rice, shoot the water pistol, and shine the light just like their midnight screening compatriots do.
The production also incorporates all of the most recognizable aesthetic elements from the film: Frank-N-Furter’s red corset, Brad’s thick-rimmed glasses, and Columbia’s vibrant red hair give the production a familiarity that is welcoming and familiar.
Their rendition of “The Time Warp”, which could have been a dangerously rote and boring performance of the classic song and dance, was particularly inspired and rousing. This is due in no small part to Joel Stratton, who played Riff-Raff and the lead voice in the song. Though classically trained, Stratton has an indelible rock voice that gives the song the life it deserves.
The performance of the song was vibrant and immediate, and instead of rousing the audience to their feet to join in, kept them in their seats (except for a handful of exceptionally excited or drunk patrons). How often does keeping the audience in their seat for “The Time Warp” work? Probably not that often, but this production got it right.
From there, though, there weren’t many big surprises. If the cast and crew attempted to queer this already queer text, to give us something different, I’m not sure if they succeeded. Perhaps the biggest surprise this year was having a Rocky who was actually a specimen Charles Atlas would be proud of.
Previous Regina Rocky’s, though attractive and blonde, were a bit doughy and not the chiseled specimen required of the role. Paul Gilbert’s Rocky is the right amount of sweetly naive and erotic sex god, helped mostly by his winning smile and incredibly well-defined physique.
The play got a little tired and uninspired by the end of it, as by the end of the Floor Show number the actors were visibly fatigued and didn’t move with the same vivacity we saw in Act I. But despite this, as the play ended and Lyndon Bray’s slightly unsettling Frank-N-Furter met his inevitable demise, they managed to pull it all off.
It was safe, but at least it was successful.