'Rocky Horror Picture Show' still relevant for Rialto audiences

CorrespondentOctober 31, 2013 

  • Details

    What: “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”

    When: Midnight on the first, third and fifth Fridays

    Where: Rialto Theatre, 1620 Glenwood Ave., Raleigh

    Cost: $6

    Info: therialto.com

A midnight screening of the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” urges shrewd observers to check their inhibitions at the door.

“It’s about those people, these people, you people. It’s about getting out of your seat,” says Mike McLean, 40, as he introduces the show to an audience of newcomers and devotees alike at the Rialto Theatre in Raleigh.

Having been active in the “Rocky Horror” community, both locally at the Rialto and nationally for the last 24 years, McLean is the resident grown-up in charge, handling logistical realities and nightmare scenarios – such as assembling a shadow cast of roughly 20 unpaid “Rocky Horror” denizens on a given Friday night to ad-lib a performance of the camp classic for an interactive audience.

The film itself, projected onto a screen up front, is the backdrop for the actors on stage.

‘Still a little relevant’

“I’ve heard many people express the notion that ‘Rocky’ isn’t relevant anymore because it’s not shocking, it’s not out there, it’s not taboo anymore,” McLean says, pointing specifically to an episode of “Glee” that aired in 2010, in which plans to perform a “Rocky Horror” musical are extinguished in favor of obedient discussions on gender roles moral obligations and codes of censorship.

“If ‘Glee’ can’t actually do it right, if ‘Glee’ has to shy away from even writing a fictional show about a high school performing it – and even coming out with a moral lesson at the end, that it wasn’t right for a high school performance – then maybe it is still a little relevant.”

Before it was ever a movie, “Rocky Horror Picture Show” was written and performed as a musical in London in 1973 by Richard O’Brien and Jim Sharman, who later produced its celluloid counterpart in 1975, cultivating a legacy out of an intent to satirize the tawdry method by which B-movie farce had taken hold in horror and science fiction cinema.

Over the years, the film has confounded the coy of heart, has shirked P.C. sensibility and opted instead for an orgiastic fusion of absurdity and abandon, following in a tradition of rebellion.

Andrew Spivey of Raleigh has been attending the “Rocky Horror Show” performances at the Rialto for the past three years.

“In my opinion, the most characteristic expectation one should have of ‘Rocky Horror’ is a complete detachment from the mundane,” says the 21-year-old Spivey.

Traipsing and tossing

Once a weekly occurrence for 25 years at the Rialto, the show is now biweekly.

In the expanse of the Rialto’s single-room theater, teenage boys in corsets traipse the downward-sloping aisles in fishnet stockings, approximating the flagrance of Dr. Frank-N-Furter – iconized by Tim Curry as our “Sweet Transvestite” of choice.

Topless women fabricate X-shaped pasties from black electrical tape, attempting to conceal their more erogenous anatomy – naked, almost, but not quite.

“If you watch the news, one of our wonderful lawmakers in Raleigh has made it illegal for a woman to bare her breasts in public,” McLean says, clarifying a few guidelines for the night, placing special emphasis on the part about no nipples. “Men don’t count – for whatever reason.”

The laissez-faire momentum is enhanced when it is time for the “underwear run,” in which participants are encouraged to strip their bodies of worldly attire, except underwear, and to sprint around the theater. This occurs randomly, suddenly.

Ruminating wryly on the permissible tiers of public nudity, McLean finally says, “If you have more hair on your back than I have on my head, we’ll torch you.”

Available for purchase at concession are prop bags. Inside is Scott brand toilet paper, an allusion to the character Dr. Scott, a criminologist; the rolls are to be tossed on cue as if projecting streamers.

There’s also rice to hurl during the wedding scene, and a deck of cards to expunge with bravado during the final song, “I’m Going Home,” in which Frank-N-Furter laments, “Cards for sorrow, cards for pain.”

“Don’t throw things at the screen or each other,” an anonymous voice shouts from the audience, suggesting instead to “throw them at the virgins!”

Rebellious fun

While entertaining, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” is actually not that great a film. But it is striking in its appreciation for those on the margins, for the pridefully freakish, the defiant and the stubborn.

“We live in a world where we’re still trying to come to grips with all sorts of civil rights for gay, straight and transgendered people,” McLean says. “There are certainly segments of the culture that have moved well beyond where we were in the ’70s when ‘Rocky’ came out, but as a whole we’re not there yet.”

“Rocky” offers a cause on which to hang notions about transvestism, rebellion, and counterculture – even as the boundaries of genre continue to blur and re-emerge and engage themselves in such a way that counterculture seems an altogether antiquated notion.

Its refusal to compromise lends poignancy to the wildness of misfit adolescence.

“There’s a lot of rebellion in the story,” said McLean. “There’s also a lot of rebellion in the culture around the movie. I mean, you go to a movie and then you break all the rules of being in a movie theater.”

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