A SWEET TRANSVESTITE INDEED A summer-stock treatment of a cult classic.
The Arundel Barn Playhouse has given its production of The Rocky Horror Show a "PG-14" rating, and attendees are asked by artistic director Adrienne Grant (in both a pre-show speech and a detailed online document that is itself a work of art) to observe a few niceties: No use of the F-word in any tense or form. No nudity, underwear worn as outer clothing (except corsets), or use of doughnuts, sponges, prunes, large pumpable water guns, or hot dogs. Those who want to use the word spelled a-s-s-h-o-l-e as a shout-out are asked to restrain themselves, and those with water guns are warned against shooting at the thousand-dollar stage microphones, the actors, or the band. Above all, patrons should be respectful of senior citizens, who make up much of the Playhouse's subscription base. Given all these rules, this production is, in one sense, your grandmother's Rocky Horror Picture Show.
But that doesn't mean it's not outrageous and sexy. From the opening melodies of the funny-creepy, impossibly high cheek-boned Usherette (Fjaere Harder), who draws us into sci-fi movie-land, this production sets the right frenzily campy tone. Set (Christopher Rhoton) and lights (Timothy Reed) create a fun and cartoonishly colorful send-up of the mad scientist's castle, the live band reels fetchingly along, and Rocky Horror is reborn into a whole new incarnation of camp for being staged in a quaint summer stock barn decorated with classic dolls and old theater posters.
Presiding over it all is a frankly luscious transvestite master: Anthony Alfaro, in turquoise eye make-up and with every stitch painted on, is a fabulously, languidly laconic Frank-n-Furter. He has a delicious voice just dripping with indiscretion, and boasts equal parts Mick Jagger and Tina Turner in his oh-so-expressive mouth. He's hard to look away from. Many of his minions, too, are sharp and giddy, particularly the intensely zany Riff-Raff (Glen North) and the bizarro-dulcet chorus of Phantoms (especially Harder and Leah Woodsum), who do wonders of weird with mere eyes and mouths. As the perfect muscle man that Frank-n-Furter creates for his own pleasure, Nate Richardson makes a sweet Rocky, though his voice at times could be stronger, and Michael Soldati has a great turn as the tweedy narrator who gets so caught up in the story that he can be seen fingering his nipple through the herringbone.
As the two young virgins Brad and Janet, John Carucci and Melissa Bills both have super vocal chops and an echt squareness to their deadpan mugging. As things get ever more breezily wanton at Frank-n-Furter's, Bills could let Janet let go a little more and with a little more physical nubility, especially in her big awakening number "Touch-A Touch-A Touch Me," but she and Carucci certainly hold their own as the Mr. Joneses of '70s camp.
As for audience participation, it was a bit slim on the night I attended, despite a few die-hards in costume and despite the handy $5 Participation Bag on sale that outfits you with all of the needed accoutrements. And it's perhaps true that the sexploits of a man-slave-building, virgin-deflowering alien transsexual do seem an interesting main stage choice for a bucolic summer stock theater famously visited by George Bush père last summer. But I am all for it.