Theater Review: There’s a new show in town!

By Bill Beard
Theater Critic

When I first moved to Rockford some 25-plus years ago, I was surprised to find there was so much live theater around. New American Theater (NAT), of course, was at its zenith, both colleges had active “four shows a year” programs (plus outdoor summer theater at Rock Valley College), and there were several active “community” theaters within an easy drive: Pec Playhouse, Beloit Civic, Main Street Players and Byron Civic, all fairly well respected.

At about that same time, there was a venue on the 13th floor of the Talcott Building that offered some sort of “midnight” cabaret show. Unfortunately, it closed before I found out about it, but it evidently was fairly popular at the time. However, since then, we’ve never been offered much in the line of late-night theater, downtown or elsewhere; and with NAT having suffered a slow demise and Artists’ Ensemble having found a home out east (at Rockford University on East State), it’s now down to a choice of big road shows at the Coronado, concerts at Mendelssohn, or rock or tractor pulls at the Metro (BMO Harris Bank Center).

Well, darn it! It’s time for Rockford to have some “alternative” theater! Every good city center needs something “different,” controversial, experimental, something a bit radical, maybe even “activist,” making some challenging social comment!

Well, perhaps we’re seeing the beginning of all that. Downtown Rockford now has an “alternative” of its own, the new West Side Show Room, where Mike Werckle is now extending the run of Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, the hit New York fringe show that ran off Broadway for more than five years! It’s different! It’s daring! It’s hilariously camp, and sometimes downright crude. It’s raucous and completely over the top. It pulls no punches. But it is funny! [Note: Think of it as an outrageous spoof of The Rocky Horror Show, shorter and without so much audience involvement.]

Werckle has now “re-staged” and “re-opened” his production, which originally ran over the holidays (Dec. 20, 2013-Jan. 4, 2014); and is now playing weekends, Fridays and Saturdays at 10 p.m. — with a modified script, some added songs (which are great fun), and a modified cast, including some of Rockford’s best performers.

As for the plot and subject matter of Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, that’s actually almost enough; the name says it all. And if the title shocks or disgusts you, if gross humor and sexual innuendo are not your thing, then better stay home. But remember: this is a SPOOF! It is exaggerated, tongue-in-cheek humor, extended to the obvious and the ridiculous! [Note: If you really require details of the plot, check out Jim Hagerty’s original article in this paper’s Jan. 8 issue, or online.]

But, I absolutely must include a few notes on the cast. Werckle himself is actually a strong actor, in or out of “drag.” He manages to maintain control, even in his most unrestrained moments (of which, there are many)! And he has surrounded himself with solid, experienced performers. Genny Bonavia is consistently convincing as a slightly mad, “sinisterly” silly … and very malleable victim. Alex Ruano and the marvelous Carolyn Cadigan both handle multiple roles with great aplomb. Ruano was one of the better things on stage, convincing even in the comedic extremes. Erin Philpott, new in the role of Virgin/Madeleine Astart, was able to nicely balance the extremes of Werckle’s in-drag Magda Legerdemaine. David Mortenson, Susie Wallin and Liz Newman ably fill out the cast.

This is obviously not the show for just anyone. It is typical of “late-night, alternative theater,” always popular in New York or London fringe theaters; as well as Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, even St. Louis and Madison, Wis.! But Rockford is also big enough, modern enough, and yes, sophisticated enough, to give something new a chance. Go! With an open mind … and ready to laugh at the ridiculous!

Vampire Lesbians of Sodom will be playing Friday and Saturday nights at 10 p.m., “… as long as audiences want it to stay!” says Director Werckle. Tickets at:, $8 in advance; $10 at the door, 410 Mulberry St. (next to the former Parthenio’s diner).

From the Feb. 12-18, 2014, issue

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