October 17, 2008
by David Ollington
Let’s do the time warp … again.
Eubank Productions, in the Off Center Theatre in Crown Center, presents the cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show, marking the 35th anniversary of the popular show, a gaudy hybrid of fishnet-hose camp and low-budget science fiction.
The experience commences a good 25 minutes before curtain time with sardonic pre-show events. As we found our seats and awaited show time, an ensemble of masked dancers almost floated around us, occasionally invading our space. Dressed as ushers, their behavior had chillingly humorous effect, both robotically neutral and highly sexualized. Often, they sat upon the laps of audience members. Rather than expressing affection or executing a lap dance, the dancers sat on selected legs in complete stillness. They peered over shoulders, usually departing quickly after each encounter. (One dancer took my notebook and drew something naughty on the paper.) The noses on the masks they wore extended forward, Cyrano de Bergerac style. The bold characterization of the masks offered another enigmatic contrast to their odd behavior: an expressive mask on a human machine.
During this space invasion, a montage of film images passed by on the screen before us — 1950’s science fiction and horror film scenes mixed with the dated gyrations of voluptuous women from the same period stripping while keeping on their bustiers.
The juxtaposed imagery on the pre-show film screen connects conceptually to the raucous show that follows. Nineteen-fifties American media tended to repress any kind of wanton sexuality. The strippers in the vintage film footage danced alluringly yet kept on modest attire. Science fiction, however, allowed for a fuller expression of desire. If they’re from the future or aliens, they can show more skin — they’re not us.
In “Science Fiction Double Feature,” the opening number of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, actress/singer Vanessa Severo refers to the shiny gold underwear that Flash Gordon wears. Creator Richard O’Brien fused 1950’s rock and roll with the same era’s permissive science fiction sensuality. Director Steven Eubank takes that alien, Cold War, euphemistic sensuality and amplifies it.
Rocky Horror’s fame resides less in its stage play version and more in the popular cult following of the 1975 film starring Tim Curry and Susan Sarandon. For decades, audiences have dressed up as their favorite Rocky Horror character, attended often midnight showings of this musical movie, and participated in set responses to moments in the film. The plot (perhaps warranting no reiteration) concerns conservative fiancés Brad (Evan White) and Janet (Katie Karel) who run into car trouble and come upon a mansion populated by cross-dressing aliens Frank N. Furter (Doogin Brown), Riff Raff (Price Messick), Magenta (Vanessa Severo) and Columbia (Katie Kalahurka).
The innocents discover their energized erotic selves, moving from horrified shock to lustful enthusiasm.
A shadow play scene between Brown, White and Karel succeeds at an astonishing portrayal of bawdy behavior. Frank N. Further masquerades as Brad and seduces Janet; she thinks she lies with her betrothed. Frank does the same to Brad, crawls disguised as Janet into Brad’s bed. We see only their silhouettes, and the extreme coitus portrayed behind the screen may be the sexual zenith, the orgasm of the production.
Running at warp speed, the production bombards the audience with imagery like a theatrical collage. Director Eubank moves the action at a remarkable rate. Planted audience members shout out questions, responses and insults to the actors with fast-quipped timing, at times too dense to digest but often refreshingly hilarious. For example, during one of Frank N. Furter’s pauses, an “audience member” yells “Where do you find the ugly girls in Missouri?” Frank N. Furter then calls out for Kalahurka’s character and says, “Columbia.” The audience repeatedly alienates us from the onstage action for the sake of campy humor.
The well-rehearsed hecklers target narrator Bell Peletier with numerous jabs such as “Is it true you had a three-way with Sarah Palin and a moose?” Peletier responds bombastically and maintains the narration with an inebriated pomposity reminiscent of Orson Welles.
Price Messick’s Riff Raff touches on every conceivable level of the demented character, even bringing subtlety to the event. Severo also infuses Magenta with multifaceted layers, at times fully invested in the action, at other times stumbling over her lines as a conscious actor’s choice and making all of it work.
The ensemble of dancers execute some extended athletic gyrations with expressive energy. Choreographer R. Vance Baldwin relies too heavily on unison movement across the stage. Gender bending serves as the constant theme of Rocky Horror; Baldwin could have made more creative choices in having the men and women move against their gender stereotypes — the men always lift the women in the show, remaining in their acceptable, choreographic, gender roles.
Attention holding, expertly paced and lewd, The Rocky Horror Picture Show runs until Nov. 2 at the Off Center Theatre in Crown Center. Call 816-842-9999 or visit www.eubankproductions.com.
Traditionally, Rocky Horror allows extensive audience participation. Eubank Productions will perform Rocky Horror for one performance without audience interruption. Director Eubank believes it is good for audiences to experience the phenomenon of Rocky Horror before the “Picture Show” craze began. This will also give the performers an opportunity to offer their talents and abilities to an attentive audience. On Thursday, Oct. 30 at 8:30 pm, audience members can experience the show sans participation for this one night only.
David Ollington can be contacted at Ollington@aol.com.
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