I hadn’t realized it was possible for breasts to be actively and independently vivacious, but the Studio 2ndStage production of The Rocky Horror Show has enlightened me on that point. Because the mammaries that feature so prominently (and so perkily) on M. DeLorenzo, the tall, slim-hipped personage performing the role of Columbia in this revival, have what appears to be a life—a lively, if disorientingly rubbery, life—very much of their own. They’re a phenomenon unto themselves, collectively and individually. And pneumatically.
But then Rocky Horror, since its 1973 debut, has always been about waggishly confronting an audience with naughty ideas and images about sex and sexuality, not to mention the bodies involved. So is The T Party, a more serious if no less puckish spectacle of more recent vintage that plays a few more performances—along with gratifyingly clever tricks involving some of the same ideas about form and gender—in Silver Spring through July 27. In both shows, the question of body parts and where (and whether) they belong are front and center, as exposed as emotions and every bit as much in play.
“Play,” of course, is a decidedly operative word in The Rocky Horror Show, the stage-bound source material for the more familiar midnight-movie staple—itself every angsty teen’s favorite musical spoof of late-night-double-feature fodder, and the pop-culture chestnut that made anticipation a go-to gag long before How I Met Your Mother. The 2ndStage staging, co-directed by Keith Alan Baker and Alan Paul, hits all the usual notes as uptight Brad (Tim Rogan) and uptighter Janet (Jessica Thorne) stumble across a wild party chez Frank N. Furter (Mitchell Jarvis), eventually discovering their inner perverts as well as the secret of Frank’s not-so-locally grown origins.
A midsize band, led by music director George Fulginiti-Shakar, powers through the show’s familiar tunes, occasionally elevating some of them (notably “Hot Patootie,” sung voraciously by Matthew G. Myers’ Eddie as if it didn’t have the most idiotic lyrics this side of a Tim Rice song) to something like bona fide badass rock. The ensemble is a gratifyingly raffish rabble of corseted, fishnetted, leather-booted contortionists, bouncing athletically around a Giorgos Tsappas set that carves a surprising amount of room out of Studio’s Metheny Theatre, and Sarah Marshall, everyone’s favorite off-kilter actor, turns in precisely the knowing Narrator (and the Strangelovean Dr. Scott) performance you’d imagine she might.
But it’s Jarvis’ Frank who’s the show’s coke-fueled, sex-mad motor, a slinky-sweaty love machine who really just wants to find a soulmate—why else would he have gone to the trouble of building one (William Hayes’ agreeably acrobatic Rocky) from scratch? Bustier? Check. Gloves? Check. But costumer Collin Ranney has given Jarvis a kind of feathered mohawk of a hairdo to cap his compact space-oddity getup. Imagine a Roman centurion crossbred with a Vegas showgirl, and you’ll be in the vicinity.
In the era of Geraldo Rivera selfies and The Bachelorette, there’s something less transgressive about a show that points out the combustible absurdity of a marriage of convenience between a closet case and a sexually repressed sorority girl. (Hard to imagine that 40 years ago, that was so radical a notion that exploding it necessitated the intervention of an actual alien—and a tragic end for the cross-dressing catalyst.) And yet Rocky Horror, like Cats, is a now and forever thing, an entertainment that’s both decidedly of its time and somehow as much fun as ever, every time you check in with it.
The T Party Written and directed by Natsu Onoda Power Forum Theatre at Round House Silver Spring to July 27
In The T Party, creator Natsu Onoda Power and her Forum Theatre crew have devised a series of vignettes about sexuality, gender identity, and transformation—which isn’t nearly as tiresome as you might fear. As with Rocky Horror, there’s an ingratiating sense of play at work, along with many an indicator of intelligent curiosity and a gratifying dose of open-heartedness. In a society that’s only now learning to look beyond its sweet transvestites—the literally far-out creatures represented by Frank N. Furter and his pop-culture cousins—to discover the intensely human trans people who’ve barely begun to command a shred of our increasingly fragmented attention, it’s good to see D.C. theatermakers helping to shape the conversation.
Two correspondents walk a bare space in the opening gambit, circling a kind of central uncertainty that looms between them, speaking the language of IM chat, with its measured self-corrections and its anxious, necessary nonverbals. Arch? Certainly. Knowingly funny, too. Touching and tentative and breathlessly sexy besides.
One vignette imagines a kind of wildlife documentary, with the Green Lantern, a go-to watering hole among D.C. gays of a certain age and body type, as its subject. (Otters and pandas and bears—oh, hi!) Another, marginally less successful excursion among the animals—less successful in that the echoing acoustics at Round House Silver Spring make for muddiness when music and amplification are involved—sets a scholarly treatise on bottlenose dolphins and their surprisingly adventurous sexualities to a hip-hop beat. Shame the details sometimes get lost, frankly, because them critters can apparently bring some straaaaaange.
You get the picture: The T Party is about chronicling and commenting upon the ways we’re increasingly understanding the nonstraight and the unnarrow as not other, but necessarily of us. Binaries, it says, are so last generation. It’s a stance the show is forced to strike casually on the one hand, so as not to seem tragically unhip, and defiantly on the other, so as to confront its audience with the inequities still involved. Some of the sobering costs of those inequities get ticked off in a sequence that pairs dry statistics with the equally stark—and ravishingly pure—sonics of Arvo Pärt’s “Spiegel im Spiegel,” a piece of sound-design shorthand whose use ought by now to be as infuriating as Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” but which still somehow commands a breathless, meditative silence. It’s the right note on which to end this sometimes silly, sometimes sorrowful exploration, a reminder that transitions and transformations, even when they involve an awakening, almost always involve some heartache as well.