|Doing the Time Warp on the Coastside|
The crowd milling about was enough to make any Coastsider stop and pinch his or her wrist for a quick reality check. Black leather, skimpy garters, merry widows, fishnet stockings, towering heels. Sequins and glitter. Patent leather. Shiny blue and spiky pink hair. Daring cleavage, skintight pants.
A bad dream or a worse movie? No, just Coastal Repertory Theatre just before curtain time at the second late-night Saturday performance of “The Rocky Horror Show,” on Aug. 11.
A lot of audience had dressed up for the occasion a la campy Rocky Horror, ready to sing along, shout along, toss popcorn or papers, and otherwise enjoy themselves in the true, traditional Rocky style that landed with the movie in the mid-1970s. A surreal time was had by all.
Public reaction to “Rocky” has been mixed. Some viewers loved it, and some of those weren’t what you’d expect. Several octogenarian women on opening night were all smiles over intermission refreshments. One of them, who’d never heard of Rocky Horror before, giggled like a girl when she said what fun she’d had and that she wanted to come back! Others disdained it as an exercise in tawdry tastelessness, poorly disguised as entertainment. Some, like the mature couple I know who are regular theater attendees but said they’d pass on this one, simply chose to skip it altogether. Still others heralded it as a sign of degeneration on the Coastside.
Granted, Rocky Horror is just a little bit of a departure for this town. It’s not the first time for Coastal Rep: back in the 1980s, as This Side of the Hill Players and at a time when the AIDS pandemic was first beginning to draw public shudders, it staged the one-act “On Tidy Endings” (by Harvey Fierstein, out of his “Safe Sex” trilogy) which put a human face on that disease, and which got a similar mixed bag of response. (I know; I played homophobic lawyer June, in that one.)
But think, isn’t pushing the envelope, introducing people to something outside their comfort zone, part of what theater – let alone great literature -- is supposed to do? Isn’t that part of a very sweeping tradition that can count classics like “The Crucible,” “To Kill a Mockingbird” or “Inherit the Wind” in its numbers?
What’s to do when faced with something new, potentially discomforting or unpleasant? The easy answer is to rail against or loudly decry it. It’s a safe response, often involving defense, a protection of the comfortable, established and familiar. Self-continuance is second nature.
A higher ground might be to analyze or evaluate the points it makes, to see if there’s something worth looking at. Maybe there’s a need crying out to be addressed. “To Kill a Mockingbird” spoke out against racism, certainly a touchy issue then and, sadly, now.
Maybe the scariest thing to do is look straight into the mirror such an experience tends to hold up. What might be lurking behind the discomfort? If it’s something you simply don’t like, you don’t have to embrace it. You don’t have to adopt fishnet stockings or change your convictions. Still, it may be illuminating to understand what triggered the response, and then, maybe, grow a little.
Here on the Coastside, there’s a tendency toward knee-jerk response, causing bruises that intelligent analysis and thoughtfulness could heal. Sometimes it’s embarrassing to read responses that want just a moment of thought. It’s sad to see what is intended as an exchange of ideas deteriorate into a virtual or actual shouting match. It’s frightening when the head-butting of opposing opinions escalates into so much shouting that communication can’t be heard.
“Rocky Horror” is, as its director indicated to me, a rollercoaster ride (a clarification from the July 25 story). All the songs, the storyline, the characters in its science fiction/double feature/picture show, cascade right along and bring the viewer into its own surreal world. There’s a dizzying lot to see and experience. But really, it’s just a theatrical slice of the pie of life. There’s one more weekend before it closes. Go have fun with it. Maybe think a little. You don’t have to buy that merry widow.