PORTLAND, Maine — “Let’s do the time warp again.”
The famous lyrics from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” will ring through One Longfellow Square on Friday night as a new generation of theater-goers, aka “virgins,” discover this campy odyssey.
The ’70s glam-rock opera, packed with nonsensical, sexual hijinx and fishnets galore, shocked the bourgeois and the rebels when it was released during the Ford administration.
Decades later, the show, wherein audience members wield props, shout out racy retorts and hurl toilet paper as actors mimic scenes live, is an emblem for a new generation of Portlanders.
“We love the opportunity to take a film that people love and instead of glamorizing violence get people to talk about stuff,” said Kelly Arbor, a Portland sex educator/change agent who plays Brad in the show.
Arbor is a member of Maine Educationalists on Sexual Harmony, or MESH. The network that promotes “sex positivity and limitless identity” co-produces “Rocky Horror” with local performers.
The movie, starring Susan Sarandon and Tim Curry, is rated R, but production organizers say this live version is PQ — that’s “post queer,” said Kenneth Lamb, a Portland 25-year-old who is directing the shadow show (a compendium to the movie, which will be screened). Lamb stars as Frank-N-Furter, a deranged doctor in drag who calls himself a “sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania.”
“Post-queer is a response to shame, blame and policing amongst radical communities,” he said. “We use this rating as a way to be able to enjoy and talk about content that may be problematic while not depleting its value. The movie has a lot of things in it in poor taste, even for ‘Rocky Horror.’”
Scenes featuring non-consensual sex, violence and abuse will be addressed by this group of gender warriors, who “want to make it more welcoming to those who are new to it,” Lamb said.
The aim is to redirect attention away from negatives and awaken empathy and outreach for some of the most vulnerable and frightened, as well as those who already own their evolved gender identity.
Trigger warnings, where performers and dancers will hold up signs indicating that the next scene contains violence, for example, invite audience members to take a time-out. A member of MESH will accompany those affected to the lobby, should they need support, Lamb said.
Words such as “slut” are used against characters including Janet are “getting a more positive flip,” said Lamb, who, along with the rest of the casts, seeks to free these perjoratives from their chains. “Our Janet,” played by Ellen Elizabeth White, “is more outgoing,” Lamb said, less victim and more willing participant.
“It’s meant to enrich the experience for everybody. A lot of people are intimidated to come to this show,” Lamb said, mentioning a “rape by deception act” his character commits on Brad and Janet. “That is pretty heavy for a lot of people.”
At the same time, a cast stripped down to fishnets and garters inviting the crowd to let their freak flag fly is a decent night out. Until the last scene, this is good, rowdy, anything-goes fun. Noisemakers are encouraged — but leave your food and squirt guns at home.
“It’s been a long time since it’s been done in this setting, where people can be loud and throw things,” Lamb said, adding that prop bags will be available for sale in the lobby. “There are not many shows where you get to shout at the stage without being escorted out of the theater.”
Although the actors and dancers are not holding back on the kitsch, the group seeks “to provide safer spaces and opportunities for community conversation around consent, coercion and sexual violence,” Lamb said.
“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” will be performed Friday at 8 and 11 p.m. at One Longfellow Square, Portland. Tickets are $10.