Theater review

‘Psycho Beach Party’ is great summer escapism

CorrespondentJuly 29, 2013 

  • Details

    What: “Psycho Beach Party” by Charles Busch

    Where: Theatre in the Park, 107 Pullen Road, Raleigh

    When: 7:30 p.m. Aug. 1-3; 10:30 p.m. Aug. 3; 3 p.m. Aug. 4

    Cost: $16-$22

    Info: 919-831-6058 or theatreinthepark.com

If you think the mashup craze is new, Charles Busch’s 1987 “Psycho Beach Party” may surprise you. This wacky spoof crosses ’60s beach party movies with Hitchcock-style thrillers. It takes a knowing cast and director to pull off such parody, and that’s exactly what Theatre in the Park’s production provides.

Fifteen year-old, skinny Chicklet, uninterested in boys, wants to learn surfing. But the surfer dudes laugh when she asks for lessons, especially muscle-bound champ Kanaka. That is, until he accidentally mentions the word “red,” unleashing one of Chicklet’s several other personalities, a sharp-tongued dominatrix. Under her spell, Kanaka teaches Chicklet, who gains respect – and interest – from Star Cat, handsome boyfriend of man-crazy Marvel Ann.

Jealousies and passions come into play, bringing on many other characters: Chicklet’s adoring, nerdy best friend, Berdine: Chicklet’s protective, man-hating mother, Mrs. Forrest; incognito movie star, Bettina Barnes; and two goofy surfing buddies, Yo-Yo and Provolony.

Busch layers the script with naughty and often bawdy sexual references, all the more humorous in such “innocent” contexts. The original script calls for several female roles to be played by men, adding further quirkiness. Here, as sanctioned by Busch, all roles are played by appropriate genders, but the challenges are no less demanding.

Kelly McConkey impresses mightily when her chirpy Chicklet turns into a dragon lady, the transformation shockingly complete. Preston Campbell makes his own striking reversal from egotistical surfboard icon to cowering lackey. Joseph Kessler’s gung-ho Star Cat and Katie Bottomley’s self-centered Marvel Ann, along with Lori Ingle Taylor’s dim-bulb Bettina, are funny because they aren’t overplayed.

Lorelei Mellon nearly steals the show as endearing bookworm Berdine, while Sandi Sullivan gives Mrs. Forrest Joan Crawford-esque intensity. Thomas Porter’s Yo-Yo and Allan Maule’s Provolony amuse as they reveal more than just a buddy relationship.

Director Ira David Wood IV balances all the elements well and has a fine feel for the period. He’s added a bevy of bikini-clad dancers in choreographer Jade Carlisle’s handful of high-energy numbers, but they stretch the production to nearly 2 1/2 hours, a long time to sustain Busch’s already overstuffed and rambling script.

Still, Stephen J. Larson’s sand-filled set, complete with snack bar and surf shop that turn into a kitchen and beach shack, and costumer Elaine Brown’s kitschy beachwear, help make this production great summer escapism.

Dicks: music_theater@lycos.com

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