New ‘Rocky Horror’ production bends gender, theater conventions

C.J. Wisler

Mehera Nori '12 as Magenta, Erin Terrell '11 as Dr. Frank-N-Furter and Stephanie Burk '13 as Columbia give life to Rocky Horror, played by Tristan Rupert '07. Credit: Hubanks
Mehera Nori '12 as Magenta, Erin Terrell '11 as Dr. Frank-N-Furter and Stephanie Burk '13 as Columbia give life to Rocky Horror, played by Tristan Rupert '07. Credit: Hubanks

As a “Rocky Horror Picture Show” virgin, the hype and mythology surrounding the experience mystified me. I had heard rumors of course, so by the time I found my way to Maxey auditorium Saturday, Dec. 5, I understood the basic concept. The film, the audience participation and the staged show are all layered together like the world’s most risqué ice cream sundae. Weird doesn’t even begin to describe the experience, but I think I left with a deeper appreciation for what it’s all about.

Each year students perform this cult-classic story of sexual comedy, lost innocence, intrigue, danger and insanity. Rather than just sitting by and showing the film version, the talented cast and crew put on a full-cast production and encourage audience participation.

Interspersing dirty shout-outs during the film, the cast of “Rocky Horror” gives more than a run-of-the-mill, WEB-style show. It breaks the boundaries of ordinary theater: both film and stage alike. Headed by creative director and Rocky enthusiast, junior Devin Petersen, Whitman’s “Rocky Horror” offers a night of fun but also blurs the lines of entertainment and what it means to be an audience member.

Audience members, dressed in full-scale “tranny” regalia a la Tim Curry’s Dr. Frank N. Furter, help set the playful gender-bending atmosphere. Despite the initial awkwardness of seeing barely-dressed people all around: and being barely dressed myself: the exposure turned to fun as more and more outrageous costumes filtered in.

Then came the virgin games. Each year, a few select students who have never attended the play/movie version of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (recognizable by the large letter ‘V’ inscribed on their foreheads by the corset-wearing bouncers at the door) are asked to play the games. This was perhaps the most hilarious: and scarring: part of the show. For example: The most minor game involved eating a Twinkie placed provocatively between another person’s legs.

While the virgin games were the highlight of the experience for many, the show itself entertained and tantalized the audience. Junior Erin Terrall, who played Dr. Frank N. Furter, pranced confidently in full corset and fishnets, playfully seducing Janet and Brad as well as the audience.

Janet and Brad, played by junior Patricia Xi and first-year Yoni Evans respectively, transitioned beautifully from stereotypical “normal” citizens to sexual enthusiasts. Rocky, played by ’07 alumnus Tristan Rupert, flashed his muscles even while portraying the terrified sexual Frankenstein monster.

Other outstanding cast members include Petersen as the Criminologist, who enthusiastically and mysteriously narrates the story of Brad and Janet’s strange excursion into “sins of the flesh,” as well as first-year Stephanie Burk, who played the tap-dancing groupie Columbia.

The only fault I can find in the show is that because the movie plays simultaneously, it has an hypnotic effect and frequently draws the audience away from the live action. However, only during a few, less action-packed moments did this problem really bother me. For the most part, the pull between the screen and the live action added a level of complex interplay to the show.

For example, during the orgy scene, the watery weirdness on screen and the simplicity of the writhing bodies of the live actors made for a delicious parallel between the two. Petersen made a bold choice in placing the live-action orgy in the shadows directly beneath the center of the screen.

Other smart moves included the choice to use the same group of actors for the early marriage scene, who later play the transvestites, creating an interesting analogy.

During this same scene, another interesting moment occurs. As Brad and Janet begin interacting and the marriage party disperses, Frank N. Furter appears, as if out of the shadows, staring mischievously at the white-bread couple. Although this precise movement does not occur in the movie, it added a burst of individuality to the play. This allowed the live action to break off from the movie and do its own thing.

Now that I have officially been “deflowered,” I would encourage all students who haven’t seen this production of their favorite cult-classic to attend next year’s performance. Whether you are an audience member or a performer, keep doing that Time Warp again. And again.