I will proudly plead guilty to being a theatre addict, but seeing two shows in one evening is a little out of the ordinary even for me, though not actually unprecedented! But given a 7:30 showing of When She Had Wings at Florida Atlantic University’s Theatre Lab in Boca Raton and a 10:30 showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Old School Square Theatre in nearby-ish Delray Beach, doubling up was not only possible but plainly convenient.
Naturally, that meant I had to make the night a double feature, and if there were a way for me to throw these very different shows under one figurative umbrella, it would be the whimsically surrealist “science fiction” character of both. Or maybe I’m just trying way too hard to make this pun on the title of Rocky Horror’s opening number work. Who knows? This is only my second post, guys!
When She Had Wings is the Theatre Lab’s second Heckscher Theatre For Families production, meaning it was written to be suitable for a younger audience, as part of the company’s admirable student outreach program, which has thus far provided free theatre and writing workshops to over 1,500 students from around the area. So though I was prepared to have to turn off my brain a little to enjoy the material, in the end the unique piece actually offered me a lot of food for thought. The play was also quite a feast for the eyes; I’d liken the fantastical, gnome-filled set to something out of Alice In Wonderland.
Actress Stephon Duncan adeptly starred as 9-year-old “B,” a character at least 20 years her junior who is obsessed with flying, planes, and Amelia Earhart. B even has “memories” of flying before she could walk, but she has now forgotten how, and fears that she will lose the ability forever on her upcoming 10th birthday.
Compounding B’s dilemma are her divorced parents. While B’s well-meaning but overprotective father hovers, her distant mother has made arrangements for her to attend fat camp. B’s struggles with her size also added ‘weight’ to the character’s journey and to the play’s unusual choice of villain— the force of Gravity. This concept was personified by actor Rodrick Randle, who, interestingly enough, also played the role of B’s father. This “gravity” here served as an inventive metaphor for the burdens that more figuratively “bring us down.”
B’s mission finally gets off the ground when she meets the mysterious A, excellently embodied by actress Barbara Sloane. A is at first costumed and referred to by B as a bird, her mono-syllabic name indicating the only sound she can squawk. Later, a visit from a nosy nursing home attendant and a change in costume makes it seem as if A may instead be an escaped stroke patient.
Yet when A’s utterances begin to resemble airplane code, B decides that her new friend is actually the amnesiac ghost of Amelia Earhart. The audience then gets a mini history lesson as B tries to get her hero to remember her true identity by regaling her with tales of her past. Though it never becomes definitively clear whether the apparition actually is Earhart, by the end of the play the unlikely duo does indeed manage to fly, a feat made possible thanks to the stage magic of silks.
Other memorable theatrical moments were provided by the Wingman and Sound Op, two enigmatic white-suited figures who helped provide sound and visual effects throughout the play. Among other things, they play the kazoo in imitation of an airplane motor, “water” the audience with a watering can, and hold up the fabric “cloud” into which A disappears for good after teaching B how to lift off.
Though the play’s ending was quite touching, it was still a little ambiguous for my tastes. For example, was B’s costume change into pajamas near the finale supposed to imply that her visit from A was all a dream? That interpretation would certainly explain the play’s symbolic, intuitive logic and how A’s character could shift so dramatically…or is that just me trying to force too much logic onto a play meant to be uplifting and fun? Maybe I should quit thinking so much and spend a little more time trying to fly.
You have 2 more chances to catch When She Had Wings, next Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon. Henceforth, I’m going to try and see shows closer to the beginning of their runs so that humans can conceivably make reference to my musings as if I were an actual reviewer or something, which I guess is what I am positioning myself as (you don’t need a license for that, do you?) I vacillated until weekend three of four to buy tickets to see this one mostly because I was debating whether or not I’d enjoy a show aimed primarily towards a family audience. Verdict: I definitely could.
The seventy-five-minute show was over by 8:45, so I had plenty of time to spare before play two, which I spent downing an espresso martini (ok, two of them) at nearby Dada’s. I know, I know, so much for responsible reporting behavior! Hey, I did at least manage to stay sober for the entirety of show number 1.
Well, possibly because the venue didn’t serve alcohol.
Besides, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is also the sort of rambunctious show that lends itself well to a little insobriety. Even the show’s narrator asked during his introduction whether everyone of age had yet gotten themselves an adult beverage.
I also meant to see this production of Rocky Horror closer to the start of its run, but apparently I can’t tell time and was late for the performance I’d planned on attending. While you missed this year’s incarnation of the musical, it may well be back with a lot of the same players and behind-the-scenes team in the not-too-distant future. This is the fourth time company Entr’acte Theatrix has mounted the production, the others being in 2012, 2014, and 2017.
I’ve attended this incarnation once before, and I was far from the only repeat viewer. Given that its famous film version has been a cult classic since the 1970s, the evidence is plentiful that the peculiar story of Rocky Horror is one that never really gets old.
Where When She Had Wings’ set had been a technicolor wonderland, Rocky’s was a sensual and gothic one. The vibe was only enhanced by the fact that much of the audience had also dressed up for the occasion. Though I attended in a somewhat risqué black lacy dress and black lipstick, I looked positively conservative next to some other audience members, not to mention the cast! Central character Dr. Frankenfurter is corseted the entire show, and by the end of the evening, even the heretofore conventionally dressed male characters were clad in red feather boas and fishnets.
Prop bags were also available for purchase to help audience members with the “call-outs” that have become traditional among Rocky’s devout fanbase and are now commonplace at productions of the musical as well as screenings of the film. For example, whenever the character Brad’s name was mentioned, the participating audience would yell “asshole,” and whenever Janet’s name was mentioned we would make sure everyone knew that she was a “slut.” We also brandished glowsticks during the song “There’s a Light” and threw toilet paper towards the stage on the line “great Scott.” Besides these tried and true additions, I noticed a few new ones mixed in as well.
“What do you think about President Trump?” someone said during one pause.
“I think we can do better than that!” Dr. Frankenfurter responded from onstage, and the audience erupted into raucous applause.
That was the only time during the play that I remember things getting overtly political, but a director’s note from Carlo Rufino-Sabusap (who also played Dr. Scott) stated that part of his artistic ambition was to transcend the current bigoted political climate by reminding us that “wildly different people from different backgrounds” could work together to “make something great.”
It’s certainly a resonant idea. Maybe Rocky Horror’s unique embrace of difference and freakishness is one of the reasons it became such a phenomenon in the first place. Art in general and theatre and particular have always been the province of the misfits, and few plays do more to “celebrate the idea of the outsider,” as director Sabusap puts it, than one in which one main character is an alien transvestite and the other two go from a relatively conventional couple to one that is subversively defiant of their day’s social and sexual norms.
While Rosseroni Paris as the devious Dr. Frankenfurter and Mary Grace Tesoriero, as the initially innocent but increasingly uninhibited Janet, were probably the cast standouts, I noticed no real weak links in the company. I did find myself briefly wondering how Dr. Frankenfurter’s seduction of Brad and Janet under false pretenses (in each case, he pretends to be the other’s fiancé in order to get them into bed) would have gone over had the show come to prominence during the Me Too era. Though Frankenfurter is clearly supposed to be a charismatic, likeable character, I suppose him getting sent back to the planet Transylvania at the end of the play could be conceived to constitute an indictment of sorts.
More likely, I’m just thinking too much again. However contrasting they may have been, I’m glad I got the chance to see both of these shows, and I’m also glad I got to see them both in one night! We need shows as encouraging and informative as When She Had Wings to teach us to fly and shows as raucous and sensual as Rocky Horror to keep us all in the air. I hope all the young viewers that Theatre Lab’s latest production reached grow up a little more empowered to do whatever they want to do and become whoever they want to become, from sluts to assholes to alien transvestites!