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Thursday, Oct. 29, 2009 01:02 pm

Everybody’s weird at The Rocky Horror Show


Ralph Shank as Rif Raff, Aster Lesle as Columbia, Joshua Ratz as Dr. Frankenfurter, Mary Young as Magenta in the ADHD production of The Rocky Horror Show.

I admit that I watched The Rocky Horror Picture Show a few times growing up, mostly to learn the dance steps to the Time Warp to fit in at the high school Halloween Dance… so I turned the movie off after that song. Had I kept watching, I would have learned the rest of the plot, which revolves around a bisexual transvestite, an axe murder, mistaken identity lovemaking, ray guns, and Meatloaf.

Suffice it to say, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is not my kind of movie, and The Rocky Horror Show, the stage version presented by ADHD productions at the Hoogland Center for the Arts, is not my kind of play. The content is questionable and downright disturbing throughout. But, as a reviewer, I believe every show should be critiqued on how well it accomplishes its goals instead of the value of its content. The goal of this production is to entertain and indoctrinate a large, predisposed, and hedonistic crowd, which, according to a pre-show survey, was filled mostly with RHS “virgins.”

Richard O’Brien wrote The Rocky Horror Show, which launched in London 36 years ago and has since achieved cult status in part because most versions encourage and provoke audience participation. The Springfield production is no exception, and although many came dressed in character, Hoogland audience members must purchase approved prop bags from the theater instead of smuggling in their own newspapers, party poppers, rubber gloves and other traditional items.

Like me when I was in high school, I get the feeling that most of these people are coming just to fit in. The show rates itself “M” for Mature Audiences, although a more appropriate rating might be “I” for Immature Audiences. Normal shows remind patrons to switch off their cell phones and sit quietly — but Rocky Horror is no normal show. “Patrons” are expected to yell obscenities, dance in the aisles, hurl props and sing along.

The show and its following can be difficult to understand. Steve Sykes, who plays Dr. Scott (and does the best wheelchair dancing I have ever seen), tries to explain the phenomenon in a current post on his Facebook page. “Picture going to Studio 54 at the height of its popularity, except instead of going to listen and dance to disco, you’re watching and dancing to a rock and roll parody of 1950s science fiction movies with a dash of 1970s free love thrown in. It’s an event. It’s a place where people go to see and be seen. Ironically, it’s often people who in their “normal” lives would prefer to fade into the background which are most drawn to this display of theatrical exhibitionism. That’s probably because, in this domain, everybody’s weird — and everybody’s normal.”

Patrick Russell as Brad and Shannon Lawler as Janet in the ADHD production of The Rocky Horror Show.

As coaxing audience participation and sheer entertainment are the goals of the production, the quality of the acting and singing become almost secondary — they’re just not that important. Despite the way they fade into the background to make room for the Rocky Horror “event,” director Mac Warren has all elements (except for a problematic sound system) working for him. The performers, especially Joshua Ratz as Frank, are very good, and the technical elements are fine, too. Warren gets good mileage from Todd Schumacher’s minimal sets, and a band led by Damien Kaplan is excellent. As the transvestite doctor, Ratz conjures Mick Jagger in high-heels and prances with the confidence the show must ride upon. In fact, each actor seems so natural that I’m not convinced this weird universe doesn’t play out every night once the lights go off at 420 S. Sixth Street.

In this self-obsessed culture of Twitter, MySpace and reality TV, what could be more appealing than a show in which each audience member is given the chance to become a supporting character in a local play? The Springfield audience relished the moment on opening night, participating in an unending game of “who-can-yell-‘slut!’-the-loudest,” and “make-the-audience-laugh-with-the-premeditated-joke-I-thought-up-in-the-car.”

To be fair, there were some funny audience ad-libs (mostly from a veteran local actor who shall remain nameless).

This is a good production of The Rocky Horror Show. It’s just not a show for everyone. Some people don’t like it. Like the guy who has to clean up afterwards.

Remaining performances are 10/30 at 9 p.m. and 10/31 at 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. Scfta.org / 217-523-ARTS. $16 adults, $15 seniors and students.

Zach Baliva is a filmmaker living in Springfield. Local theater credits include Romeo and Juliet, Fiddler on the Roof and other STC, Muni, and ACTT Shows.


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