‘Rocky Horror’ review review: Mary L. Clark responds

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Yesterday afternoon (Tuesday, Sept. 23), Dallas Voice’s executive editor of life+style, Arnold Wayne Jones, posted this blog criticizing this review, by Mary L. Clark, associate critic for John Garcia’s The Column, of Dallas Theater Center‘s current production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Arnold’s blog obviously generated a lot of discussion. It has, as I write this, been “tweeted” nine times and “shared” or “liked” on Facebook 401 times. I was out of the office taking photos of Gay World Series opening day games, so I missed the uproar. But I heard about it this morning.

In my email was a response from Mary L. Clark. I read that, then I started reading Arnold’s review of the DTC production and then his post criticizing Mary Clark’s review. Then I got a call from John Garcia. I don’t think he was satisfied with my response because I didn’t agree to delete Arnold’s blog about Mary Clark’s review. What I am going to do, though, is post Mary Clark’s email here on our blog — find it below — and give folks the chance to see what she had to say. I think that’s fair.

And also in the interest of fairness, let me say these two things: I believe that some of the language to which Arnold objected has been changed in Mary Clark’s review posted online at The Column. And John Garcia stressed that some of the language to which Arnold objected — including the word “lifestyle”—  were, in fact, direct quotes from the production’s director, Joel Ferrell, that Mary Clark found in an interview with him elsewhere.

On a personal note, let me say this: I would not EVER presume to critique a theatrical performance or a movie or a restaurant or a theater/movie/restaurant critic. I would totally suck at that. I mean, I loved Sharknado and potato chips and some beef jerky from the corner convenience store are my idea of fine dining. So I don’t feel comfortable criticizing either Mary Clark’s review of the show, Arnold Wayne Jones’ review of the show or of Mary Clark’s review, nor do I feel qualified to comment on John Garcia’s complaint that it is unheard of for one critic to so publicly criticize another’s work.

Here is Mary L. Clark’s response:

Hey Arnold, I got home late yesterday evening and had a call concerning your commentary on DallasVoice.com and the comments posted afterward. Was surprised to say the least and thought it a good idea to go over some things.

First, I didn’t know you read any of The Column’s reviews, so thank you for reading mine. Yes, I am a true Mrs. Malaprop — I did mean “free love” — thanks for the correction.

As for culling from Wikipedia, well not really, but facts are facts. I read several articles on The Rocky Horror Show and, as you read our reviews, you’ve certainly noticed they often include the history of a play or musical as our readers appreciate some background on a piece.

That you didn’t like my writing style, I can’t help you there. We all have our own opinions and I thank you for yours. You wrote your review on the basis of being a gay man and I wrote mine on the basis of not seeing any labels at all.

Apologies to Foe Destroyer — I have a friend named Zoe, and even after proofing three times, the word just went by me. Even you made the same error Arnold, and that’s all it was, a human error.

But now, to the real reason you wrote your commentary, my using the words “lifestyle” and “choice”.

I can see where you would think I meant being gay is a choice. Of course it’s not.

No, the word “choice” refers to being open to one’s beliefs, sexuality, or anything. The word lifestyle is defined as “the habits, attitudes, tastes, moral standards, etc. that together constitute the mode of living of an individual or group”.

To choose to live your life openly as a gay person is a lifestyle, and that is how I used it. Throughout my adult life I’ve heard many friends and others who are gay talk of it being their lifestyle. I cannot be sorry, as that means that I was at fault. I can, however, apologize if my choice of the words offended you.

The information I got on Joel Ferrell’s vision and choices in directing the musical came from an interview in another magazine where he says, “… we’re going to work to confuse you on gender identity as much and in as many ways as we possibly can”.

Me saying, “I never thought about gender equality when seeing Rocky Horror” means just that. In the 20+ times I’ve watched the film, never once did I view it as a banner for homosexuality. I saw it as a crazy, fun movie about people who weren’t afraid to be who they wanted to be and reveled in their differences. Early college days and being in theatre is a great time to learn about that!

Arnold, you forgot to include that my statement “don’t be worried you are going to be pro-gay rallied or asked to make any choices other than to have a really good time” came AFTER I wrote about the film, and now musical, not offending me, and that we see wilder things on TV, in video games and in magazines. But after my description of the characters, the costumes, and some of the scenes, I did not want our readers to think DTC is rallying around homosexuality any more than they are rallying around heterosexuality . . . and isn’t that the point after all, and what Ferrell was after, to blur the lines?

And here is a good place to note that only you used the phrase “catch gay”. I found it interesting that so many of people that commented jumped on the same phrase, the phrase only you used.

I’m not upset about your commentary. Thank god for free speech. What made me sad, though, were comments made by several people I met after the musical. I’m disappointed that my true self and my beliefs were not reflected in all the fun we were having talking about the show, the clothes everyone was wearing, and the audience reactions. That they met me, hopefully formed some opinion of me, but then made inaccurate decisions about me based on your commentary is truly the saddest part of it all. Oh, what the power of speech can do indeed.

Regards to all,

Mary L Clark

(And yes, Kent Boyer, I worked for Dallas Voice, mainly writing theatre reviews and one huge feature article on being a production assistant for the JFK film while here. So that would be around 1988 – 1990.)

—  Tammye Nash

SUPERMAN Comes Out! (sort of)

Gay playwright and comic book author Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa puts a queer twist on comicdom’s straightest superhero with his adaptation of the ’60s musical ‘It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… It’s Superman’

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Life+Style Editor jones@dallasvoice.com

TRUTH, JUSTICE AND THE AMERICAN WAY Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa transforms from mild-mannered comic book author to rockin’ musical playwright atop the Wyly Theatre as his ‘Superman’ adaptation enters previews this week. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)


IT’S A BIRD… SUPERMAN
Wyly Theatre, 2400 Flora St.
Through June 18­–July 25 in previews through June 24).
$15–$78. ATTPAC.org.





Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, like most gay men, knows something about having a secret identity. Although he grew up with worldly parents who had an appreciation for musical theater (he would listen to their cast recordings of Hair and Man of La Mancha), Aguirre-Sacasa tried to hide from them his own favorite showtunes from the first album he ever bought: The Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack.

“It felt sometimes like when ‘Sweet Transvestite’ and ‘Toucha-a Touch-a, Touch Me’ were playing, that’s when my parents would come into the room,” he now confesses.

But while his alter ego (gay theater queen) was finally revealed, it all worked out for the best: Aguirre-Sacasa became a respected playwright and TV writer (Big Love), as well as comic book author of one of the Spider-Man imprints. And now he’s combining those passions, adapting the 1960s musical It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… It’s Superman for the Dallas Theater Center.

While he’s best known for his work on Marvel Comics, it’s difficult not to see the physical similarities between Aguirre-Sacasa and the fictional DC superhero’s own alter ego. He’s tall and seems born to wear the mantle “mild-mannered;” he even sports the same boxy black rim eyeglasses as Clark Kent. Could he be hiding something under that button-down?

Nah.

“I did not pick the glasses because they were Clark Kent’s, but I definitely was aware that they were Clark Kent glasses,” he says. “It’s more that I’m hard to satisfy.”

Despite closeted gay kids finding solace in parallels between superhero comics and their own dual identities, Aguirre-Sacasa resists pop psychologizing about his motivations and how — if at all — his personality winds its way into his comic book work … or his stage adaptation of a cartoon ubermensch.

“I get that, absolutely, but for me it’s hard to reconcile,” he says. “I feel Superman is the straightest of superheroes; and I first worked on the Fantastic Four, also the straightest in the Marvel universe” — despite the fact, he acknowledges, that one of the Four’s signature phrase is “Flame on!” “But I don’t say, ‘Oh, I’m attracted to the comic books because they allow me to play out subtextual symbolism.’ I do know I have gay fans — I’ve met both of them,” he jokes. “But it’s not something I am conscious of in my work.”

Nevertheless, he has brought an undeniable gay sensibility to this Superman adaptation, with lesbian characters and a *sigh* factor to the hunky Man of Steel, played by Matt Cavenaugh.

And he was definitely conscious of turning Superman into an old-fashioned musical comedy, the kind that will make people say, “They don’t do ’em like that anymore.”
“I do feel superpowers are larger than life — a quite natural fit to musical theater,” says Aguirre-Sacasa.

Still, fitting the very ‘60s-era musical into a post-modern world familiar with decades of superhero culture was daunting. Aguirre-Sacasa grew up listening to (and enjoying) the original Broadway cast recording, but the songs were all he heard; he hadn’t read the script until he saw a staged reading a few years ago.

“It was very jokey — just skits strung together. That was the driving impulse. Character was sacrificed at the expense of the material. Who Superman was — honest, patriotic — was a joke. It was very tonally different from the first two Superman movies; more like the third one,” he says.

Aguirre-Sacasa — and for that matter Kevin Moriarty, the artistic director of the DTC and a superhero-obsessed overgrown kid — wanted something that would fit within the contemporary construct. The original authors (including Waxahachie-bred co-author Robert Benton) gave their blessing for a re-imagining of the book.

Aguirre-Sacasa streamlined the multitude of romantic subplots in the original and let them fall in expected ways (Superman with Lois Lane, for instance) and gave more stage time to editor Perry White. Among the biggest challenges: A more legitimate opponent for Superman.

“One of the tricky things was to have a worthy villain,” he says. “Max Menken and Dr. Segdwick [the bad guys in the original script] didn’t really work together until the second half of Act 2. Our Max is more like the industrialist in Iron Man, like Al Capone.”

But, he admits, still no Lex Luthor. What gives?

A couple of things prevented that, mostly the idea that “Lex Luthor just wouldn’t sing. And making Max formidable was real attractive to me.”

Shoe-horning the existing songs into his new script was another feat.
“There was not a lot of Superman singing, and not a lot specific to Superman” in the original score, Aguirre-Sacasa notes.

The songs did get restructured, and there has been additional tweaking and reshuffling, including commissioning four original composers Charles Strouse and Lee Adams to write four new songs. But in his original draft, Aguirre-Sacasa “pretty much followed the score structure, though I didn’t think they had to be sung by the same characters.” That meant in one instance swapping the lyrics in a duet, so Clark gets to sing the woman’s part.

That made me wonder: Just how gay will this production be? I mean, other than being a musical with a hot guy in tights?

Well, that’s what’s called a cliffhanger. Tune in to find out.

This article appeared in the National Pride edition in the Dallas Voice print edition June 18, 2010.

—  Dallasvoice