American Stage’s Rocky Horror Show isn’t about gay or straight sexuality so much as it’s about the explosion of the entire concept of sexuality and all the distinctions it usually suggests. In this raucous, joyous spectacle, male and female merge and cease to matter, and what’s left is pure libido, aiming anywhere and everywhere, coupling tirelessly and indiscriminately, and shouting out its orgasmic delight in one riotous song after another. Led by the androgynous Frank N. Furter (played with boundless enthusiasm by Matthew McGee), this Rocky Horror Show is a wildly spinning sexual kaleidoscope that delights virtually from its first moment, and doesn’t rest until its audience has been carried away by its velocity. I’ve seen several other stage versions of Rocky over the years, but this one easily beats them all: brilliantly directed by Karla Hartley, it’s exultant, jubilant and so celebratory, you’d think sex itself had just been invented. If you’re old enough (don’t bring the kids), you’ll find lots to reward you in this very silly, very knowing pageant.
In case you missed those earlier versions — or the cult film that still makes it to revival houses — Rocky Horror is about Brad and Janet, an ordinary American couple who have only just become engaged, and whose car breaks down near a castle on a dark and stormy night. Hoping to find a phone, they visit the mysterious mansion, only to find themselves in the clutches of the polymorphously perverse Dr. Frank N. Furter and his minions. Stripped to their underthings and groped by every organism with 10 fingers, our heroes have to fight for their increasingly threatened love. And this is not just any night: Frank N. Furter is about to carry out the most ambitious of all his schemes, the creation of boytoy Rocky, a mindless golem with six-pack abs. Can Brad and Janet remain true to each other in the confusion of Furter’s fiefdom? And can Furter himself survive the dangerous energies he’s unleashed?
McGee as Frank N. Furter is sublime. Over the years, this talented actor has many times projected a zany gay persona — in Irma Vep at American Stage, for example, or in The Frogs at freeFall Theatre — but he raises this tendency to a whole new level in Rocky Horror. Insinuating himself into couplings with Brad and Janet both, chasing after Rocky with the avidity of a sex-maniac Victor Frankenstein, McGee is at once Master of Ceremonies and First Victim of his sexual democracy. As clueless Brad, the ever-surprising Jim Sorensen once again extends his range: Who could have guessed that this dramatic actor would also be comfortable playing a ridiculous nerd? The ever-dependable Alison Burns is characteristically first-rate as Janet, and Stephen Flaa as the story’s ironic narrator is just serious enough to be funny. Not all the roles are quite successful, though: Jose Urbino is a lackluster Rocky, and Lulu Picart doesn’t really make sense as wheelchair-bound Dr. Everett V. Scott. But most of the supporting players, from Ericka Womack-Brown as Magenta to Meagan Nagy as Columbia, turn in excellent work, and with a very few exceptions, all the singers are top-notch. Domenic Bisesti’s choreography is a lot of fun (and yes, the actors eventually invite the audience to Do The Time Warp), and Trish Kelley’s costumes include stockings and high heels for most men, and a pair of glorified bathing trunks for semi-human Rocky. For the first time in years, there’s actually a brand new set for this In-the-Park show: as designed by Steve Mitchell, it features antique furniture and eclectic bric-a-brac, along with an enormous upper lip and teeth rising up from (and appearing to bite into) the back wall. The four-piece band — Michael Raabe, Paul Stoddart, Joe Grady, and Burt Rushing — is superb, as is Joseph P. Oshry’s lighting.
And what can you say about Karla Hartley that’s not an understatement? With this Rocky Horror she’s taken a known, even too-well-known quantity, and made it as fresh as if this were its first appearance anywhere. Talk about controlled chaos: under Hartley’s splendid direction, the show feels urgent and spontaneous. On the night I attended, the audience loved it. As did I.
So: once more into the Time Warp, friends. Rocky Horror wants you back.
And this just may be your best time ever.