When it comes to The Rocky Horror Show, I am -- as one of the lovely drag queen hostesses put it -- a born-again virgin. I enjoyed the movie when I saw it on video years ago and I am aware there is a cult following that enacts elaborate rituals of dress and repartee when the movie plays in theaters. But I had never seen the play. So it was all new to me -- beginning with the creme-filled Twinkie eating contest before the curtain rose. Whoever ate their Twinkie most erotically (as judged by audience applause) was the winner. This was particularly funny, since almost all the contestants were clean-cut adolescent girls, torn between exhibitionism and embarrassment.
That tension is perhaps the secret source of energy that catapults Rocky Horror into its own eccentric orbit in the theatrical heavens. For somewhere deep inside, we are all Brads and Janets -- the laughably square, well-behaved, conventional-minded young things who stumble into a grotesque realm of unrestrained, indiscriminate lust. Think for a minute how weird sex first seemed to you. How it violated everything you had learned about what was proper. To some extent, everyone who enjoys sex has gone through an initiation in Dr. Frank-N-Furter's castle. Yes, but where are the limits? That panicky question is, in a sense, beside the point. You may or may not be tempted to wear corsets and fishnets or have orgies, but -- wherever you are in the erotic spectrum -- you have felt a hidden desire to push the limits somehow, somewhere. Richard O'Brien's witty, effervescent rock 'n' roll tunes and whacked-out script give their blessing to those urges. He provokes, defiantly -- but without malice, and there is something curiously uplifting in his version of decadence. Above all, it's great fun.
At Cowpoke's, we are in the hands of an attractive, exuberant ensemble. The vibrant Dana Webb kicks things off as Trixie, an usherette who celebrates the joys of late-night double-feature shows. Then, a red-haired sorceress who seems to be channeling Alfred Hitchcock (Tony Fennelly) begins telling us the tale of Brad Majors (Jeff Poucher) and Janet Weiss (Jennifer Leigh Stockton), whose car breaks down one night, in the pouring rain, not far from a mysterious castle: "Something about the place made them feel apprehensive."
Soon Brad and Janet are deeply enmeshed in the erotomania that swirls around Dr. Frank-N-Furter (the polymorphously appealing Jonathan Frick) and his cohorts, a hunchback named Riff Raff (Scott Sauber), a domestic named Magenta (Dana Webb, again), a groupie named Columbia (Lisa Davis) and an ex-delivery boy named Eddie (the swivel-hipped Michael Santora). Frank-N-Furter creates a monster (Bill McKee), notable for having all the right bulges in all the right places --the naughtiest bulge covered by a pair of silver shorts the width of a piece of duct tape.
Next, the good doctor seduces both of his timid guests. Brad never seems to quite get with the program, but Janet's inner trollop is awakened and she starts getting it on with Frank-N-Furter's creation. Meanwhile, Dr. Scott (Van Valian), a rival scientist and an expert on UFOs, shows up and notices that the metal on Frank-N-Furter's apparatus is not of this earth. These weirdos are actually from the planet Transsexual in the galaxy Transylvania. And so, genre confusion is heaped on gender confusion, as Frank-N-Furter is ray-gunned by his former operatives in a tragic finale. Throughout this all, three curvaceous Phantomettes (Erin Crowley, Reese Robertson and Renee Olcsvary) put some body English on the narrative and sing back-up.
A tip of the hat to director Jonne Dendinger for this charming bit of depravity. He keeps things simple, with the focus on the performers themselves. And they never let us down. Dendinger also plays keyboard and conducts the hot five-piece combo.
One of the most unusual features of Rocky Horror is the institutional heckling, partly from the audience, mostly from offstage cast members. Many of these wisecracks are based on a prior knowledge of the script and they can be very funny. For example, during a momentary pause during the narration, someone yelled out -- without apparent logic -- "Is it an orgy or a picnic?" The laugh came on the narrator's next line: "It was clear to see this was going to be no picnic."
One last peculiarity must be mentioned. The show kicks off at midnight. No problem, if you're in your salad days and keeping late hours. I'm not. But, if I was a bit sluggish going into the theater, I was in high spirits coming out. The problem is not staying awake for The Rocky Horror Show; it's going to sleep afterward.