'The Rocky Horror Show' — Ray of Light & Oasis deliver a definitive delight

  • by Jim Gladstone
  • Tuesday October 10, 2023
Share this Post:
D'Arcy Drollinger as Frank-N-Furter in Ray of Light Theatre & Oasis' production of 'The Rocky Horror Show.' (photo: Rachel Z Photography)
D'Arcy Drollinger as Frank-N-Furter in Ray of Light Theatre & Oasis' production of 'The Rocky Horror Show.' (photo: Rachel Z Photography)

To borrow a line from playwright-composer Richard O'Brien, Ray of Light Theatre "has discovered the secret, that elusive ingredient, that ... spark that is the breath of life itself!" in its electrifying resurrection of O'Brien's own "The Rocky Horror Show" now on stage —and on the bars, the gogo platforms, and the dance floor— at Oasis through November 4.

That special sauce is a merciful immersiveness that washes the dust off material that, despite the blind devotion of many ardent fans, has grown more and more moribund over the 50 —eeek!— years since its London debut.

Director Jason Hoover understands that for all its sci-fi and horror B-movie pastiche, "Rocky Horror" was first and foremost a celebration of uninhibited self-expression. And their go-for-broke cast brings a fresh queer exuberance to this production.

The show grabs audiences by the crotch and the funny bone, jerking them away from its nostalgic aspects and into a vital present tense.

In San Francisco, 2023, D'Arcy Drollinger really is our Frank-N-Furter, and our Oasis. Who else could host this Halloween party? Beyond actor or drag queen, Drollinger is tent pole and den mother. A genuine center of our queer community, in all its gravity and levity, Drollinger is the person, the venue and the role all rolled into one.

Roeen Nooran (Brad) and Melinda Campero (Janet) with Joe Greene (Riff-Raff) behind them, in Ray of Light Theatre & Oasis' production of 'The Rocky Horror Show.' (photo: Rachel Z Photography)  

Some terrible thrills
Dr. Furter made his first public appearance within months of country rock band Dr. Hook releasing "Freakin' at the Freakers' Ball," a title which aptly describes the experience of attending this vividly reinvigorated "Rocky."

Early productions of the show provocatively toyed with the borders between performers and audiences, fantasy and reality, binary and infinity.

But the 1975 film adaptation —despite bringing much wider visibility to the show— gave us silver screen as fourth wall. Where live versions of "Rocky" had coaxed actors and spectators toward a rule-busting orgy together, the midnight movie version placed a prophylactic membrane between them. Bouncing slices of toast off a sheet of vinyl is a far cry from breaking down gender boundaries.

While a few bold teens in every suburb dared to wear fishnets and strut up front, most remained distance-keeping cinema thrillseekers, willing only to watch others be other. Shouted lines that started as sharp callback quips quickly ossified into neutered non-conformity, camp as canon, zombian bed death.

This critic first saw "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" at Yale University in 1984. Cue sheets and shopping lists were distributed days before, so everyone could learn their lines and buy the proper props. I beg your pardon.

Joe Greene (Riff-Raff), Trixxie Carr (Magenta) and Carissa Hatchel/Snaxx (Columbia) in Ray of Light Theatre & Oasis' production of 'The Rocky Horror Show.' (photo: Rachel Z Photography)  

Bit of a mind flip
Perhaps the greatest horror wrought by the picture show is that once "Rocky" was released on film, even stage productions began to be treated more like screenings than parties. The endless fusillade of hoary puns previously shouted at non-responding celluloid were now yelped at live actors. When audiences contented themselves by following rules, "Rocky" could feel like a fossil.

Even when Ray of Light produced the show on the proscenium stage of the Victoria Theatre (The Oasis iteration debuted in 2021) there was a faint whiff of decay in the air; the rot of the rote.

But despite the fact that, commercially, they had a Halloween evergreen on their hands, the company's creative team has proven its commitment to the show's fundamental energy and ideals by changing venues and radically reimagining the "Rocky" experience.

While the classic songs —"Time Warp," "Sweet Transvestite," "Dammit Janet"— are all here, they've been remixed and souped up by Music Director Ben Prince with dance beats to keep the audience's bodies as engaged as their attention.

Kipp Glass (Rocky) and phantom ensemble actors in Ray of Light Theatre & Oasis' production of 'The Rocky Horror Show.' (photo: Rachel Z Photography)  

As production numbers weave their way around Oasis' main room and ticketholders sing and dance along, all the world (or at least the club) is indeed a stage, players and playgoers cheerfully encouraging one another to take on whatever roles they desire.

Among the uniformly first-rate cast, two newcomers stand out; emerging local cabaret star Ryan Patrick Welsh in a decadently etched turn as the Narrator, and Roeen Nooran as the nerdlicious, tighty-whitey-clad Brad.

In some brilliantly conceived stagecraft that tips a hat to many attendees' memories of "Rocky Horror" in movie theaters, clips from the 1975 film are used for occasional scene transitions. Bright new footage of current cast members (by Pseuda) is also interpolated into the staging, warping both time and media.

Lighting (Sophia Craven), choreography (Dane Paul Andres) and sound design (Jules Indelicato) work in tandem make the show feel as much like a party as a performance while never obscuring the dialogue or making it difficult to follow the plot. And the costumes by Daniel Harvey are spectacular; even the ones worn by cast members.

This is a "Rocky Horror Show" for longtime fanatics, folks who thought themselves long over it, and curious virgins alike. Whether you've previously seen "Rocky" on stage or on screen, this experience feels like the one it always should have been.
Embrace its spirit and it will touch-a touch-a touch you right back.

'The Rocky Horror Show' through Nov. 4. $45-$100. Ray of Light Theatre at Oasis, 298 11th St. (415) 795-3180 www.sfoasis.com

Help keep the Bay Area Reporter going in these tough times. To support local, independent, LGBTQ journalism, consider becoming a BAR member.