Psycho Beach Party – Kitschin’ Bitchin’
A REVIEW BY THE BAD ORACLE
Some girls just want to have fun, and some girls just want to have fundamental, split (and potentially homicidal!) personalities. At least, that’s the theory behind Stillpointe Theatre’s exuberant, irreverent, totally bonkers version of Charles Busch’s Psycho Beach Party, a wild mash-up of the 60’s beach party film genre and 70’s psychological thrillers with names like What’s the Matter With Helen?. Beach Party relies on familiarity with these references, but don’t be bummed if you don’t totally get it – the show is fast, fun, and weird (like the very best summer romance) and I made myself ill laughing at it. There’s also some opportunity for reflection: the reason this works so well, after all, is that teenagerhood is basically a time of split personalities right? Feeling one second like you have no idea what to do with a boy or a girl (or both) and then next moment like you’ll die if you don’t stick your tongue right down their throat. The whole hormonal thing is intoxicating, confusing, and really pretty swinging.
The show is the story of Chicklet (Christine Demuth), who is not quite a chick, yet, dig? She’s in that strange period where everyone seems to suddenly have grown up around you, been given the magic manual for adulthood, while you’re waiting in your bedroom secretly playing with Barbies. Chicklet exists in direct contrast to girls like Marvel Ann (Jess Rivera) who enter a room curves first. It isn’t so much that Chicklet isn’t in the same league as girls like that, it’s more like she’s not even from the same planet. This is especially embarrassing because there’s a whole bunch of surf bros hanging out, too, including local hottie Star Cat (Andy Fleming) and old pro Kanaka (a hilarious John Benoit). Things get even more complicated, though, when it turns out that Chicklet might have a whole host of people sharing her headspace (possibly as a result of a fraught relationship with her mother, Mrs. Forrest, played by Kathryn Falcone) and some of ’em aren’t exactly friendly. It’s a romp, indeed.
Director Courtney Proctor keeps her tongue firmly in her cheek for these proceedings, to good effect. The point is the style of the thing, and she nails that 100%. Also, I appreciated how, whenever there’s chance to really go for it, she does it, without stretching the script to freak show proportions (for example, the relationship between Chicklet and her best friend, Berdine [June Keating], is played genuinely, which is a good choice and makes for a nice audience touchstone). The only thing that seemed off for me was the dancing (choreography by Quae Simpson). In a show like this, there should be some real craaaazy dance numbers, but the ones that were there seemed strangely subdued, despite the best efforts of the cast.
Demuth is so open and appealing that it’s stitches when she flips the script mid-sentence to dominatrix sex-kitten time. She does a fantastic job playing around with the ludicrously outdated depiction of “multiple personality” syndrome, and I got what she was going for completely. Rivera’s mean-girl Marvel Ann has some screech on her, and manages to sneak in a fucking good point or two on gendered expectations from under that blonde fluff. Fleming is darling as Star Cat, with just the right amount of obliviousness, and John Benoit channels a little Jeff Bridges into his California dreaming surf pro thing. Rex Anderson (Provoloney) and David Brasington (Yo-Yo) almost walk away with the show as star-crossed beach bums and Kathryn Falcone steps in from a particularly indulgent horror flick as scary Mrs. Forrest, a woman on whose plastic-covered couch it might NOT be a good idea to spill your ice tea. Danielle Robinette is genius as a not-quite-in-hiding film star. Ohhhh and June Keating breaks my fucking heart as Berdine, god, she got me right in the fucking feels (yes, I was also a girl who read books on the beach while everyone else was busy flirting and trying to smoke).
Designers kill, kill, kill it here. Ryan Haase just cannot be beat in this arena, his multi-leveled, bamboo-floor beach set is the most. Costumes by Nick Staigerwald are also fantastic, from the hilariously small beach trunks of the sixties to the cute-as-pie one pieces on the girls. Lillie Kahkonen’s kicky lights help move the action seamlessly from one part of the stage to the other, which is important on a small, narrow, playing space like this one.
BOTTOM LINE: If you’re looking for kick-ass retro styling layered over a side-splitting show featuring a damned fine, go-for-broke cast, this is your jam. I’m summer-lovin’ Psycho Beach Party. Stillpointe serves up an outrageously funny show that still manages to ferret out some of those poignant, small, “growing up is hard to do” moments. See it now or wave goodbye because, unfortunately, this summer ain’t endless.
Psycho Beach Party runs at Stillpointe until June 16th.
SECOND OPINION? http://dcmetrotheaterarts.com/2017/05/20/review-psycho-beach-party-stillpointe-theatre/