Saturday, July 7, 2018

Dammit, Janet – The Rocky Horror Show Penetrates Stratford

Dan Chameroy as the incomparable Dr. Frank N. Furter. (Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann)

Corsets and garters and ripped fishnets, oh my! The Rocky Horror Show bursts at the seams and not just on the Stratford stage, where the scantily clad rock musical – making its festival debut – will be in a permanent state of dishabille at the Avon Theatre until Nov. 11. Cross-dressers, latex-glove lovers, falsies-wearing wannabes, all the freaks are out in force at late-night presentations of the 1973 cult classic where audience participation is not only a given, it’s a main component of this uproariously ribald show. (Viewer discretion strongly advised.)

Director/choreographer Donna Feore camps up the already camp proceedings, exhorting her knock-out cast to chew vigorously at the scenery while deflecting the call-outs helping to make her orgasmic version of Rocky Horror so ridiculously funny and subversive. Actors triumphantly hold their own against the onslaught of rather rude (slut! asshole!) insults, never missing a beat in their delivery of Richard O'Brien’s script about Frank N. Furter, a bisexual intergalactic mad scientist transvestite (played here by the irrepressible Dan Chameroy, a man with a great set of gams), and his deflowering of Brad (Sayer Roberts) and Janet (Jennifer Rider-Shaw), virgins of the human kind who chance upon his orgiastic laboratory one dark and scary night.

The audience has a script of its own to follow – go online to find any number of printable Rocky Horror audience-participation sheets developed over the years by hard-core groupies of the musical’s internationally popular 1975 movie version starring Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick – and often they collectively voice it out. Rocky Horror is their party and they will cuss if they want to. Everyone is here for a deviant good time. Frank N. Furter’s lurid lair is home to Transylvanians and other aliens whose artifice and sexual exuberance serve to undercut normalcy. Breaking the rules, upsetting the status quo, including what conventionally constitutes the actor-audience relationship, are all part of the game.

Trevor Patt as Eddie & Kimberly-Ann Truong as Colombia, with members of the company. (Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann)

Dressed in Dana Osborne’s kinky costumes, some of the actors pretend the assault on their so-called artistic integrity just isn’t happening, and stare mock-blankly out at the sea of heavily rouged faces taunting them from the other side of the footlights. But others, notably Steve Ross in his role as the much-derided Narrator, actively reflect on some of the more, shall we say, colourful comments hurled their way, responding with a flip of the bird. There is no fourth wall at The Rocky Horror Show. Only fornication. Or the wet promise of. Sexual fantasy made flesh. Speaking of which . . . 

George Krissa, who plays Rocky, a bicepped blonde in a gold bikini who is Frank N. Furter’s prize creation, is exactly that, a walking, talking aphrodisiac, an actor so perfectly cast you wonder if he actually did come out of a lab. Feore knows how to pick them. Kimberly-Ann Truong, a high-octane dancer with an out-there persona, plays Columbia, and she is fantastic. Period. Erica Peck doubling as Usherette and Magenta, Robert Markus as Riff Raff and Trevor Patt playing Eddie and Dr. Everett Scott are B-movie fabulous. Feore’s crew of Phantom dancers, meanwhile, are whip-sharp and wanton-looking, a wicked combination. But Chameroy pops the cherry.

His ironically ostentatious presence – so boa and so divine – lushly embodies the camp sensibility of The Rocky Horror Show, the reason why the musical continues to resonate with audiences more than 40 years after its initial unveiling. Standing taller than tall in his thigh high-platform boots, Chameroy looms over the action like a creature of extravagance, a true creation of the theatre. His character, like the play itself, plays with power. It subverts norms. It gives the audience an excuse to lose itself in artifice and dance the "Time Warp" (again), with wild abandon in the aisles. The Rocky Horror Show loosens buttons, inviting everyone who, umcomes, to have a good time.

Deirdre Kelly is a Toronto-based journalist, author and internationally recognized dance critic and style writer. She writes for Dance Magazine in New York, the Dance Gazette in London, and NUVO in Vancouver, and is a contributor to the International Dictionary of Ballet (St. James Press) and AWOL: Tales for Travel-Inspired Minds (Vintage Books). A staff writer at The Globe and Mail for the last 32 years, she was her newspaper's award-winning dance critic, from 1985 until 2001, before transitioning to the Style section as its senior fashion reporter in Milan, Paris, New York and cities across Canada. Her other accomplishments at Canada's paper of record include stints as an investigative reporter in the visual arts with a focus on art crime, a weekly lifestyle columnist covering the Toronto International Film Festival and celebrities, rock critic, business writer and cultural bureau chief in Montreal covering the arts in Quebec and Eastern Canada. The best-selling author of Paris Times Eight and Ballerina: Sex, Scandal and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection, she has also written for a wide range of international titles, including Marie Claire in London, Elle in New York and Vogue Australia. Recipient of the 2014 Nathan Cohen Award for Excellence in Theatre Criticism (Long Form Category), Canada's most important arts writing prize, she is presently at work on her next book, an examination of The Beatles and their style. In 2017, she joined Toronto’s York University as Editor of the award-winning York University Magazine.

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