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Rocky Horror Show at the Masquers

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By Theresa de Valence - Posted on 02 November 2009

I was a virgin until that night. Assistant Director Michelle Pond told me that’s the label for someone who’s never seen Rocky Horror Show. As always, virgins are rare. For 30+ years, Rocky Horror, written by Richard O'Brien, has drawn a huge cult following; Director G. A. Klein has seen the production upwards of 500 times.

G. A. Klein directs a big show: Rocky Horror has lots of glitter, a copious cast and sweeping, grand music.

Music Director Pat King and five other musicians (Wesley Asakawa, Ben Barron, Barbara Kohler, Jo Lusk and Julio Reyes) sound like an entire orchestra. I was surprised by how many popular snippets are tunes from this show.

From my seat in the audience, I don’t know how to separate what comes from the minds of the directors from those of the production crew, cast or author. Or, in this case, the aggregation of years of cult performances. It doesn’t matter, except at times like now, when I’m trying to understand theatre and correctly attribute credit. I’ve spent the days since seeing Rocky Horror recalling extensive vignettes wondering how so many fine details got into one show.

The set, designed by John Hull, unfolds like Russian Matryoshka dolls, each layer revealing a new world. Anjee Norgaard choreographs a beautiful dying scene amongst other feats. Costumer Dianne Beaulieu-Arms has turned black into a colour. Everyone involved with costuming clearly had fun. Lighting Designer Greg Wilson and Electrical Magician Bob Westman have both been very clever.

On a dark and stormy night, a young couple drive to visit a friend. Sounds like the opening to a bad movie? This scene is very inventive and brilliantly simple. Predictably, the car breaks down, but the way it fails adds icing to the cake—foretelling that one is in for a special treat.

One unexpected and most enjoyable aspect of regular theatregoing is that one sees actors taking on new parts, giving the performance much greater depth. Like most amateur audience members (be they book readers or theatregoers), I see the actor and character as synonymous. You are your character. We voyeurs have no idea about the real person behind the character, but we get new and tantalizing intimations with each part you actors play. This was especially true in this performance by Todd Carver, Ted Bigornia and Larry Schrupp.

Dr. Frank N. Furter is played by Todd Carver (photo, centre. Photos by Jerry Telfer). The last time I saw Todd, he was a good-looking male jock exuding testosterone—not attractive to me. In my memory he smells of beer and old sweat. As Dr. Frank, he’s a long way from a heterosexual girl’s daydream, but I found him ... well, interesting. Much more provocative. So now I figure there’s more depth to the man.

Dr. Frank is most frightening when he first appears to timid Janet (and us). It feels horrid caught in his clutches. As the show unfolds, Dr. Frank’s tantrums make him more human, more forgivable. In Act II, he brings us very close to tears. Masterful.

Todd’s was one of the voices I really liked, brassy and big. And that pout! In others I’ve always thought pouts an indelible trait, but his is new. I also wonder what the mailman would've said if Todd had answered the door while acclimatising himself to those shoes!

Janet Weiss (Sophia Rose Morris, photo, right) begins as an empty-headed girl focused on the most important thing in life: a ring.

She’s a strait laced college girl with firm ideas. When danger arrives, she looks stripped—more than other scantily clad actors. With added vulnerability comes other changes. She’s a beautiful girl dressed—undressed, she’s perfect—a firm pudding, nicely rounded. It’s easy to understand why other characters found her irresistible. It’s not until her exchange with the boy-god that she begins to look mussed. By then her metamorphosis warns us that a new monster may have been unleashed.

In the beginning, Janet seems diminutive—perhaps because so many others wear high heels—and timid. Yet her voice is attractive and strong, both soft and loud. She delivers a powerful performance.

Brad Majors (Raymond C. Duval, photo, left) is the other half of the conservative couple. He’s got plenty of down-home and protect-the-little-woman attitude which soon gets short shrift in Dr. Frank’s castle. As Brad gets his button-down shirt removed, so do his prejudices get unbuttoned.

We really come undone when Brad takes on Elvis Presley. One can watch a handsome, smiling actor and be completely unmoved—but when that actor displays great glee with his own actions, the sheer ebullience shines through.

He gives us some wild moments.

Usherette/Magenta (Patty Penrod) is a powerful singer. Though the tunes weren’t pretty—neither rôle was pretty—she belted out song. She’s a tatty usherette to a low budget sci-fi flick—we know we’re in some kind of nightmare.

This time, just like the last time I saw Patty, she seems to have been cast in whole cloth from the Director’s imagination for the sole purpose of being a perfect character for the play. She can’t possibly be real with that perfect body stuffed into shiny nylons, round face, and perfect cheeks.

Yet Magenta has a nearly constant sneer. When her character changes, she becomes colder, less voluptuous. By the end, we are certain she tortures people. If you had to wear your hair in those wire hair curlers, you'd be cranky too.

Riff Raff (Ted V. Bigornia) is surely a parody of bad horror sci-fi with his hunchback and creaking door laugh.

Ted has a strong voice. This is a new rôle for him—less jaded and smart-mouthed. Most of the success of Riff Raff’s characterization is not vocal, coming instead from his mannerisms—he positively slithers at spots—and his expressions—seeming happy when someone is in trouble, unhappy otherwise.

Riff Raff’s devotion is not absolute, intimating future suspense. His delight at rôle reversal validates the notion that victims become the oppressor. He becomes a dangerous man with a death ray gun—it’s so awful, it’s actually funny.

Narrator Robert Love is a cozy grandfatherly type who metamorphoses into Alfred Hitchcock—a man who reanimates childhood fright because he looks so very nearly normal, but underneath has strange ideas of entertaining pleasures. The narrator opens the gilt-edged book, we feel him unleash secret magic worlds—and our life is no longer safe.

Robert’s skill imbues everything with great import—even eating popcorn—we feel like puppets under his care. Sometimes he plays orchestrator, sometimes participant. He draws audience attention, holds it, then tweaks it. Robert wins my Actor Most Enjoying Himself award. He’s having great fun—and makes us have fun with him.

Columbia (Vicki Zabarte) is a lovely, devoted acolyte who fawns attractively over the doctor, evilly helping him perpetrate his schemes. She is in cahoots with Magenta.

Later Columbia reveals how unhappy she is giving the audience a rare reality check—we see that we can all watch indignities perpetrated without moving a finger to stop them.

Ultimately Dr. Frank reveals what he thinks of her sacrifice.

Rocky (Nic Candito) is Dr. Frank N. Furter’s current gold lamé creation, a fair flawless fledgeling. Like a great many other beauty icons, we don’t see much substance to him. Perhaps he is a little vacant-headed because he’s only hours old. Or maybe he has learned a few things—he certainly has the self absorption typical of bodybuilders when he parades his splendid body.

Rocky’s sole personality trait is to develop a tendency, unexpected by all, unwelcome to the doctor, and vividly graphic.

Portrayal of Dr. Everett Scott shows a new side of Larry Schrupp. The doctor’s a staid professor in a tidy tweed coat who interjects a little normalcy into an event which has unravelled into something very odd indeed. There is a spot where his Germanic English is near incomprehensible (see my rant about foreign accents here) but this may be due to script and music volume.

Dr. Scott’s arrival seems to offer hope to the two captured souls though it starts out pretty darn embarrassing and mutates into something else again. Larry’s range is ever-increasing with two dramatic changes in demeanor in this performance—one of which quite took our breath away! He has to be seen to be believed!

Eddie (Paul J. White, on opening night Robert Rich) is a creation and former love object of the mad doctor. I’m afraid I didn’t notice much outside of Robert’s beautiful, deep voice. Sorry also to have missed Paul whom I remember fondly from his last performance here.

The phantoms are very individualized. Susan Amacker has great animation in a lively wig. Sean Beecroft is what happens to the boy next door when he drinks some of the fizzy juice. Irene Franzen is a majestic Valkyrie in a slightly less regal rôle. Sarah Mosby is a schoolteacher happily running amok. Daniel Morgan is a man to watch too. I missed the early interchange between two main characters, because I was so busy watching Daniel’s face—mobile and exotic. Also it wasn’t until I was writing this review that I realize he had been seeded into the audience prior to the show.

The phantoms are a large group constantly moving and changing—laurels due to choreographer. The stage has expanded to include the proscenium and the aisles—and the phantoms use all of the space though they disappear without fanfare, then reappear with added effect. So smooth, it looks positively easy. And of course, those dancing, partly nude, provocative bodies are mesmerising.

I’ve never liked science fiction or horror, and Rocky Horror Show is in the worst traditions of either genre. It’s curious that by intermission I wanted to sing and stomp and dance, but midway through Act II, I wanted to cry. The ending was weak, relying on convenient, sappy science to tie up the story—a common sci-fi failing. Plenty of parts were hokey. It’s also obvious that many years of many people watching this show many times has rubbed off something to the audience—there’s an expectation in the air: the play’s so atrocious, it’s camp.

If you’ve ever felt the urge to join a theatre production just so you could sing along, this show will make you feel that way, even if you can’t or won’t sing. Masquers does have a midnight performance of Rocky Horror on Nov. 21 which invites audience participation, but there are many performances where you can just watch.

An exotic, erotic event—even for virgins—especially for aficionados.

How did you feel about the play? Comments are welcome.

Rocky Horror Show was performed October 30 - December 12, 2009, at the Masquers Theatre in Point Richmond, California. This review was also published in This Point In Time (TPIT), Vol. XXVIII-3, Nov 2009, a publication of the Point Richmond History Association.