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Theater: In a season for costumes, one that grows on you

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

How does your garden grow?

With plastic pipe, 1-inch foam, pop rivets and wire. Not to mention duct tape.

In the right combination they have grown to take over the stage at the Strand Theater and swallow a couple of actors during the run of “Little Shop of Horrors.” Audrey II is the central prop – or character, depending on who you ask – in the musical comedy inspired by a B-movie by Roger Corman. It is an alien plant that feeds on human blood.

When tickets went on sale last month, people asked the director, Bob Gauss, whether it was a thriller, like his 2012 production of “Dracula.” It’s turned out to be a popular family show with parents bringing their kids, he said.

“We’ve made it family-friendly,” Gauss said. “The kids connect with the plant. It’s a real crowd pleaser when the plants come alive.”

Audrey II is actually four plants: two hand puppets and two that are inhabited by Raquan Grant, making them the ultimate Halloween costume. It was the scheduling of performances over Halloween that helped Gauss settle on “Little Shop” as the show he wanted to direct. His career has included light and sound work on Broadway.

In the scene shop behind the stage at the Strand, Gauss assembled the materials to create the different versions of Audrey II. The blueprint for his version existed only in his head. “People have made them out of wood,” he said. “I wanted a lot of motion.” The plastic frame and the foam covering give the plant flexibility. That’s important when it has to start eating people.

Once Audrey II grows from a potted plant to a hungry house plant, Grant fits his 6-foot-1 frame inside. The voice is provided by Lee Ford from the wings. He and Grant started rehearsals on stage together to get in sync. “A lot of people thought the voices were recorded because it was so good,” Gauss said. They learn the truth when Ford comes out for his curtain call. He then introduces Grant. “They don’t realize there’s a person inside,” Gauss said.

The Swamp Fox Players have $1,200 invested in Audrey II, which includes a tool to bend the PVC pipe. Gauss thinks they can recoup that by selling the plants to another theater group staging “Little Shop.” “I’m seeing a lot of revivals,” he said.

Final performances of “Little Shop of Horrors” are tonight, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $18. Call 527-2924.

Roger Greene contributed to this story.

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