Clean, dirty fun with ‘Rocky Horror’

When an audience starts to howl, the play must be funny. When the audience starts to actually howl, like so many crazed wolves, it must be “Rocky Horror Show.”
The production, keenly directed by Cat Austin, wraps up its run this weekend at Andrews Hall.
You want interactive? The show begins and ends with a faux theatre usher, the delightfully daffy Athen Ross, wandering through, and serenading, the audience. Then, in true tradition of the midnight movie (9 p.m. Sonoma time) there’s the bag of approved props to officially throw, spray and otherwise implement at various plot points.
Some 38 years after its debut, the British stage play – perhaps better known for its film version – has lost much of its shock value. After the ensuing years and years of audiences being exposed to crotch-grabbing, booty-shaking performers (yawn), the vision of a transsexual mad scientist in full make-up, fishnets and a bustier doesn’t quite pack the punch it once must have.
With the still-rocking tune “Time Warp” as its anthem, the sexy interplay is a throwback to the innocent days of raunch and roll. This, then, is what naughty used to look like. A horny Joan Crawford impersonator.
A fearless John Rivard as Dr. Frank N. Furter, made up like Liza Minelli auditioning for Pagliacci, is naughty indeed. He beds both Janet and Brad, the innocent – yet apparently willing to learn – young couple seeking shelter in his castle. Austin cleverly stages the seductions as back-lit silhouettes; the cavorting shadows are far sexier than the actual bodies might have been.
As Janet, Jessica Salt arrives at the castle a prim virgin. By the second act, stripped down to her undies, not so much. With a face that’s always moving, eyebrows always arching, Salt pulls mugs faster than the bartender at Steiner’s. Rick Love, as Brad, also undergoes a sexual transformation at the hands (et al) of Dr. Furter. His look of guilty woe, accessorized with a garter belt, is priceless.
Meanwhile, Max Simonet gives eccentric cadence to Riff-Raff, the doctor’s evil henchman. As for his turn with “Time Warp,” think Axl Rose. With a hunchback.
Austin milks the body-heated choreography and a cache of crazed costumes (Mad Max meets Fredericks of Transylvania) for all their campy value. And she makes the most out of a small stage space, integrating at times 12 different characters. Even in the background, the players are always busy with bits of business – whispering, flirting, scheming. Nice touch.
Also very clever is the use of a roving four-woman Greek chorus (actually, with all the orgiastic overtones, perhaps more of a Roman chorus) who provide the backup vocals and some sexy dance moves.
Alas, the first act has the energy, and the better songs. In the second act, the plot gets messier than Lindsay Lohan at a New Years Eve party. That’s no fault of the troupe, whose members writhe, flirt and belt their way through the big all-hands-on deck finale.
Austin’s partner in the production, Philip Sales, gets into the act as the narrator, a pipe-wielding academic who pops into the action with some choice sound bites. He already had the British accent, but here adds a wry comedic touch, and at least one choice ad lib, to the proceedings.
Not for kids, but you might feel like a wicked teenager — being in on the joke, giggling at the sexual innuendo, pretending to be shocked at the naughty bits. All in all, two hours of good clean, dirty fun. In this day and age, what could be more innocent?

“Rocky” plays Thursday and Friday, July 14-15, at 8 p.m. and Saturday, July 16, at 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. Ticket are $17-$24 through or 938.4626 x1.

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