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'ROCKY HORROR': Factory Edge Debuts with a Classic

According to its Facebook site, Factory Edge Theatre Works, Baltimore’s newest theatre company, is “dedicated to bringing the most different and cutting edge musical theatre to life.” Its first production, The Rocky Horror Show—which closed November 7 after a two-week run at the Mobtown Theatre in Clipper Mill—meets one of those criteria, at least. (Given that the original production of Rocky Horror opened in 1973, I don’t know that it still qualifies as “cutting edge.”)

This is not to suggest that Factory Edge’s debut was anything but a success. Certainly the packed house at the midnight performance I attended had a great time, as did the cast and band. I can only marvel at their stamina—it was their second show in four hours, yet the energy in the theater crackled like opening night and surged through the curtain call, when half the audience—done up in their Rocky Horror best—raced onstage to join the actors in “the Time Warp.”

The Rocky Horror Show begins, as fans undoubtedly know, with the ceremonial marking of the “virgins”—those poor, misguided souls who have never before experienced a performance. Full confession: As I type this, my own hand still bears the mark—a bright red, lipstick “V”. And after spending the morning reading the Rocky Horror Wikipedia entry (which, naturally, has “multiple issues” concerning its factual accuracy), I still don’t fully understand the plot, which follows the newly engaged (and very white-bread) Brad and Janet as they lose their inhibitions in the castle of Dr. Frank-N-Furter, a transvestite mad scientist on the verge of creating a muscle-bound sex slave named Rocky. Or something.

Some of my confusion can be chalked up to Factory Edge’s inexperience as a theatre company. Occasionally malfunctioning microphones caused a not-insignificant number of lyrics to be dropped (or simply overwhelmed by the band), and Mobtown’s narrow stage seemed increasingly to constrict director Lance Bankerd and choreographer Rachel Ann Morgan—by Act II the production seemed more revue than musical, as numbers such as “Rose Tint My World, “Don’t Dream It, Be It,” and “Wild and Untamed Thing” bled into each other with little attempt at transitions.

Yet much of the confusion, I’m sure, is the point (or at least beside it). Actor-composer Richard O’Brien wrote the show as an homage to the B-movie “science fiction double features” he watched as a child. Properly done, a performance has the flavor of a good episode of Mystery Science Theatre 3000, with audience members interrupting the action to make inappropriate, usually sexually tinged (and frequently hilarious) remarks. (Considering which came first, it’s more accurate to say that a good episode of MST3K has the flavor of Rocky Horror.)

The audience at the performance I attended more than lived up to its end of the bargain, and the actors deftly incorporated the wisecracks into their own, well-rehearsed shtick. Special attention must be paid to Richard Goldberg, whose Dr. Frank-N-Furter was as mesmerizing a comic creation as you will see all year (in or out of drag). Erika Bankerd brought an adorably wide-eyed naivety to Janet and showed off a lovely soprano in her second-act solo, “Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch Me.” Drew Gaver made a perfectly clueless Brad.

In the supporting roles, Carlos Del Valle and Lee Conderacci stood out as Dr. Frank’s creepy servants, maintaining an impressive balance between the show’s campy style and their obvious talents as singer-dancers. As Trixie the usherette, Eileen Del Valle struggled a bit with an introductory spiel that seemed more ad-libbed than scripted; she looked much more comfortable once the actual plot began. Choreographer Morgan contributed some high-kicking attitude as a mohawked groupie named Columbia; she and Ms. Del Valle shared an energetic tap routine midway through Act I. Ken Garriques’s wry grin suggested his Rocky was something more than a dense slab of beef.

The look of the production was first-rate, starting with Conderacci and Marie Bankerd’s gorgeous costumes. Together with Erika Bankerd (make-up), Leonard Wisniewksi III (set), and Grey Adkins (lighting), they give Factory Edge a design team that would be the envy of many longer established companies, all of which bodes well for future productions, whatever they might be. (An ad in the program invites the audience to “pick our next show” by voting online at the company’s website: factoryedgetheatreworks.com.)

Ceding the audience that kind of stake in the company’s future is an interesting idea, and it warrants following. Still, I wonder if it will ultimately hinder the effort to produce different as well as cutting edge musical theatre. If in a few months we see advertisements for a new production of Urinetown, I’ll begin to worry about Factory Edge’s ability to fulfill its mission statement. That said, given the quality of this first production, I’ll be there in the audience—especially if its another midnight show.



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From This Author - Brent Englar

Brent is an aspiring playwright originally from Baltimore County, though a recent job transplanted me to Los Angeles to work as a sales representative for (read more...)