Alfred Hitchcock meets Beach Blanket Bingo as only Tony-nominated playwright Charles Busch can mash the two of them together in Theatre Out’s deliciously over-the-top Psycho Beach Party, directed with flamboyant flair by Tito Ortiz.
As any Busch fan can tell you, no one sends up popular film genres with a campier (i.e. gayer) sensibility than the writer of Shanghai Moon (Busch’s takeoff on the “Oriental” melodramas of Hollywood’s Golden Era), Die! Mommy! Die! (spoofing Ross Hunter’s ’50s/’60s Technicolor soaps), The Lady In Question (which takes on WWII “Women In Peril” thrillers), or Red Scare On Sunset (satirizing the red-baiting propaganda films of the late ’40s/early ’50s).
Psycho Beach Party is Busch’s two-in-one tribute to Alfred Hitchcock circa Marnie and to Frankie-&-Annette, one which (like all the others mentioned above) offered the playwright a leading-lady turn as its heroine. Yes, I said leading lady.
Busch himself played the role of “Chicket” (and her various multiple personalities) when Psycho Beach Party made its New York debut in 1987.
At Theatre Out, it’s an AbFab Andrew J. Villareal (looking pretty as a picture, unshaved gams and all) who brings Chicklet to perky but sadly flat-chested life, a gosh-darn all-American girl-next-door teen who wants nothing more than to learn surfing from local legend Kanaka (Ben Green), something her best friends (Alexis Stansfield as nerdy Berdine and Chelsea Feller as boy-crazy Marvel Ann) can’t quite fathom.
Meanwhile, a trio of frequently shirtless surfer boys (Ian James as Star Cat, JT Corzine as Provoloney, and Dustin Thompson as Yo-Yo) are never far from sight, though the latter two seem more interested in each other than in any of the abovementioned chicks or Chicklet.
In fact, not even the incognito arrival of Hollywood sex kitten Bettina Barnes (Lori Kelley) can keep Yo-Yo’s and Provolone’s hands off each other.
It’s on one of Chicklet’s visits to Kanaka’s beach shack that her vampish alter ego Ann Bowman makes her first appearance, a voracious man-eater of a W-O-M-A-N with an appetite for Kanaka, the latter of whom decides then and there to give Chicket the surfing instruction she’s been begging for, the better to have future encounters with dominatrix Ann.
Completing the cast of principal players is Michael Latsch in Faye Dunaway-as-Joan Crawford mode as Mrs. Forrest, Chicket’s mother and the quintessential 1950s housewife (as painted by Christina Crawford in Mommy Dearest), along with Paloma Armijo and Kat Gutierrez as beach bunnies Dee Dee and Nicki.
Ortiz and company may be playing it considerably campier than the “very ‘straight’ … but … heightened emotional style” specified by playwright Busch in his author’s notes, but since each and every cast member is on precisely the same utterly fabulous page, it’s hard to fault the director’s choices, not when the laughs come virtually nonstop throughout Psycho Beach Party’s intermissionless ninety-minute running time.
Among Ortiz’s inspired touches (far too many to list here) are the out-of-body baritone exclamations that can erupt without warning from Chicket’s otherwise girly voice, the “It doesn’t matter when you’re underwater” ballet that allows two boys to experience their first same-gender makeout session, and having both daughter and mother played by members of the opposite sex.
Performances are all-around scrumdiddlyumptious, from Green’s charismatic Kanaka to Kelley’s glamorous Bettina to Stansfield’s nerdelicious Berdine to Feller’s boy-loca Marvel Ann to Latsch’s scenery-munching Mrs. Forrest to James’s mucho-macho Star Cat to the gay-guynamic duo of Corzine and Thompson, milking every churning M4M4sex urge that two teen closet cases could ever attempt in vain to resist, with Armijo and Gutierrez adding sugar and spice in their cameos as Dee Dee and Nicki.
Best of all is Villarreal, proving here that his Scenie-winning star turn as “Sweet Transvestite” Dr. Frank ‘N’ Furter in Theatre Out’s Rocky Horror Show was no gender-bending fluke. From sweet-as-apple-pie Chicket to man-devouring Ann Bowman (that’s “Bowman” with a North Atlantic “ow”) to sassy black Tylene and more, Villarreal plays them all with unrestrained joie-de-being-a-girl—and best of all, makes us forget that he is not anatomically a she.
Producers Joey Baital and David C. Carnevale once again prove themselves masters of budget-conscious production design, from the show’s bright-hued Hanna-Barbera-ready backdrops (Mike Carnevale is scenic artist) to some Technicolorful beachwear for all but Mrs. Forrest, whose bouffant wigs and spic-n-span shirtwaists are Latsch’s terrific designs) to one vibrant lighting effect after another, with Ortiz contributing Psycho Beach Party’s Surfaris-tic ‘60s soundtrack.
EB Bohks is scenic designer.
Chicklet Forrest may not have the upstairs equipment to “Stuff A Wild Bikini” but Psycho Beach Party has precisely what it takes to fill a theater with laughter. Summer may be over for 2015, but you’d never know it at Theatre Out.
Theatre Out, 402 W. 4th Street, Santa Ana.
October 2, 2105