Even fans of Samantha Eve’s irrepressible Out of the Box Theatre Company could be forgiven for thinking that at some point they must already have done The Rocky Horror Show. After all, this camp classic is a contender for the claim of originating a genre — the alternative contemporary musical — that Out of the Box has specialized in presenting for almost eight years now. Add to that the extraordinary persistence of the audience-participation cult that has grown up around midnight screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and you’ve got a natural (or should that be unnatural?) fit with everything that Out of the Box has come to stand for, including wacky premises, fake blood and gore, and gloriously uninhibited vocalizing. But no, this will actually be the first time that the company has taken on Rocky Horror, and from the look of things, it will make a perfect scream of a Halloween treat.
Chatting with the director and her cast on a recent Sunday night, I discovered that, unsurprisingly, many were fans of the show well before they ever imagined that one day they would act in it. Alex Allen, who plays Dr. Frank N. Furter, the role originated by Tim Curry, said that he first saw the movie at age 13, and Jenna Scanlon, who will be the narrator, caught it in a drag bar in Florida when she was just old enough to be admitted to such places. As far as the drag element for which the show has always been famous — there’s even a song about Frank being “a sweet transvestite from Transexual, Transylvania” — no one seems too concerned about it. Perhaps it’s the fact that 44 years have passed since the original Rocky Horror Show’s premiere in London, and attitudes toward trans people have changed significantly in the meantime, but that’s not necessarily how this cast sees it. For them, the cross-dressing is more expressive of a creative, Halloween-inspired celebration of the weird and different than it is of some specific idea of real-life sexuality. As with trick-or-treating, when certain rules of everyday behavior are called off, others then step in to take their place.
And just what are those new rules? That’s a little harder to say. The author of the original script, Richard O’Brien, set out to ridicule the nonsensical moments and unintentional humor of schlocky science fiction and B-horror movies of the 1950s and 1960s, but it seems that his fascination with glam rock and his desire to cast a bodybuilder as Rocky got the best of him. The result certainly got the best of the box office. Worldwide, the film The Rocky Horror Picture Show holds the record for the longest-running theatrical release in film history, having opened in 1975 and never closed.
Which brings us to the big question raised whenever and wherever Rocky Horror appears: What will the audience participation be like? The cast seemed about evenly divided between those who were afraid that the show’s traditional audience interaction, which involves throwing things such as rice and toast at the screen, shooting squirt guns, putting newspapers over one’s head, and shouting obscenities at certain moments, would happen, and those who were afraid that it would not. Director Samantha Eve has wisely taken precautions, and there will be a few rows in front set aside for the hardcore veterans who will not only be encouraged to get crazy, but will be supplied with prepared shopping bags full of the necessary props with which to do so. Will you be one of them? Regardless of whether this is your first or your 100th trip to Rocky Horror, prepare to “do the time warp again.”
The Rocky Horror Show runs Tuesday, October 31-Saturday, November 4, at Center Stage Theater. All shows are at 8 p.m. Call (805) 963-0408 or visit centerstagetheater.org.