By the time you read this, I doubt there will be time to see the last night of THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW BY the EXposed Theatre Company of South Jersey at the Eagle Theatre Company in Hammonton. I admit to being “exposed,” fascinated and somewhat puzzled by the experience. Obviously, this show is not for everyone; if you’ve read or heard anything about it, you know that. Curiosity brings many of us out. Those who know me will tell you I am hardly prudish, but this is not my kind of show, which is why I am also admitting to writing commentary here. I believe in theater that shakes us, stirs us and moves us. Granted, this British horror comedy stage musical (and this performance) does poke us and prod us, perhaps, where we don’t want to go—some of us. While others in the audience revel in the absurdity, outrageousness, and daring display of the show. Question: Is it still theater when so much of the original is lost or changed? Read on and I’ll try to give it the perspective it deserves.
Today’s ROCKY HORROR SHOW (the musical theater version) is far removed from its origins that date back some 37 years. What began as a campy spoof of science fiction has become a raucous display of sexual depravity and deviant behavior intended to shock audiences by being more outrageous than the last rendition. The spoof is nearly absent, lost in the sexual focus. The campy part is still there, although it is somewhat diminished. Or, it is overwhelmed by vulgar, tongue-and-cheek displays. What began as interactive theater became so much more participatory theater that the developer’s original intention has disappeared from view. For sure, songs and dialogue are lost in the audience talk backs and other participatory gestures. I’ll agree some of the songs and dialogue are spoofs themselves and aren’t needed for the ultimate effect—the current effect.
Now, I’m all for theater “in your face,” but here it was in your face and in your lap. I am grateful the actors had enough sense not to force their routines on audience members who did not welcome them. Groping, fondling, cupping, feeling up, licking, mock sexual acts, and other obscenities abound in this production. Most of that is on stage, but with an oh-so-willing audience, anything goes. So much so, much time is spent with cast and audience “tit for tat” (I meant that) while onstage cast members and other audience wait for the stage show to continue.
Not to take anything away from the actors; they do appear to be a talented group. Not sure the audience would be caught dead watching an O’Neil play, but they were definitely having a good time. The set was functional, although way too small a venue for this show. The result was that the cast was often sitting on audience members’ laps, literally, and leering provocatively in the aisle. I’m sure the director intended the “in your face” to be enhanced by the proximity; and perhaps, the end result in that the theater became the stage. Artistic, yes. Still, what was on stage was hard to see from anywhere but up close, but up close was a bit too personal. There did not appear to be a lighting design. I think the pen lights were to be a big part of any design, but it didn’t really work for me. Too much little boy with the flashlight…
I said I would come to perspective and the theater. THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW, at least this production, has lost some of the original intent, although I’m not sure if the intent was to have its audience change to such a participatory following. Educated society calls it a “cult” following. Not exactly the theater audience I have in mind. The original poked fun at science fiction, horror films and our sexual repression; today’s version concentrates on the last of those.
Greek theater had “sexcapades,” Roman comedies could be equally bawdy, and, let’s not forget the English and the Bard himself. Just so you know the original ROCKY is British and had a very successful run on the West End before we Americans got at it. If you are going to have a play about sex, have a play about sex; but don’t change and add so much sex livery and lingerie that you change what the play was to meant to be.
Theater should remain true to its original intention; if it doesn’t it ceases to be that work. And it ceases to be theater when it attracts a cult following and no longer moves us or changes us. Can anyone honestly say they are changed by THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW today? Are we less uptight because of our “exposure” to it? HAIR and OH! CALCUTTA served the same purpose in their day; when we see them today we are reminded of when they came to us. It was about the same time we found THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW. You could argue that the play evolved. I would say it did something; it became something else.
The audience came. The show sold out. Hard to argue with the numbers. What’s left is art—if there’s any left to discern.
THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW
by Richard O’Brien
Directed by Brian Peeke
Oct 22-30, 2010
EXposed Theatre Company of South Jersey
at Eagle Theatre
208 Vine Street