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REVIEW: “PSYCHO BEACH PARTY”—Golden West College Mainstage Theater

A manic mix of 1950’s Hitchcockian thrillers and cheesy 1960’s beach movies, “Psycho Beach Party” is fiendishly funny fun!


THE SHOW, DIRECTED BY TOM AMEN

and now being presented through March 31st on the Mainstage Theater at Golden West College, carries its amusing parody plot premise of a Gidget-like protagonist with a Jekyll-Hyde split personality through a dozen swift hairpin turns without losing its basic thread.


Written by Charles Busch (cabaret entertainer, novelist, screenwriter and drag legend), the Tony-nominated playwright brings an aura of cheerful, poker-faced bubble-headedness to the role of tomboyish, unstoppably perky Chicklet Forrest (Tessa Sarvis), a demure teen-age girl with a maniacal alter ego.


When Chicklet's submerged psyche, Anne Bowen, announces herself, triggered by the color red, the simpering Chicklet metamorphoses into a sadomasochistic dominatrix, a voracious camp dragon dispensing commands in a Tallulah Bankhead-like basso profundo. Chicklet's dream is simply to have her own surfboard. But the monstrous Anne wants nothing less than to become ''dominatrix empress of the planet Earth.''


L to R Andrew Eckstone as Provoloney, Tristan Lund as Star Cat, Tessa Sarvis as Chicklet, Luke Brodowski as Kanaka, and Ian Pederson as Yo Yo in Golden West College Theater's "Psycho Beach Party."

Among the other people populating the beach are Chicklet’s hopelessly nerdy, long-time best friend Berdine (Chelsea Caracoza); a group of goofy beach bums including Provoloney (Andrew Eckstone); Yo-Yo (Ian Pedersen), a surfer with a food obsession as well as being just a bit too fascinated with his pal Provoloney; the leader of the beach gang and university drop-out hunk —Star Cat (Tristan Lund); and adult hipster The Great Kanaka (Luke Brodowski), local Fonz-esque idol and surfing guru.


The Company in Golden West College Theater's "Psycho Beach Party."

Also, there’s glamorous B-grade horror-movie-star-in-hiding Bettina Barnes (Michelle Terrill) in a sort of Marilyn Monroe vibe, and who just wants to be taken seriously. Emily Bolden plays Marvel Ann, the most popular girl in school who keeps Chicklet on a man-hunt; Taran Silverthistle is handsome male surfer Nicky, and sexy chick Dee Dee is played by Kimberly Montiel.


Tessa Sarvis and Tristan Lund in Golden West College Theater's "Psycho Beach Party."

Mr. Brodowski’s Kanaka doesn’t want to give Chicklet the time of day and becomes Anne's first groveling conquest, while Mr. Pedersen’s Yo-Yo and Mr. Eckstone’s Provoloney, Malibu Beach's prize beefcake, falls in love with each other in the middle of rehearsing a heterosexual seduction.


Luke Brodowski, Tessa Sarvis and Tristan Lund in Golden West College Theater's "Psycho Beach Party."

Like wow, daddio. Mr. Busch's gee-whiz dialogue offers an amusing pastiche of vintage hepcat slang and whiny love-comic-book cliches spiced with dashes of pure R-rated material, gleefully defying logic and kicking sand in the face of several clean-cut Hollywood stereotypes. The fun culminates in a denouement whose traumatic revelations seem to be subtly lifted from an array of psychological thrillers, including Hitchcock's ''Marnie'' (1964), and “Spellbound” (1945).


But the production's coup de theatre is the way it weaves images of old Joan Crawford movie scenes such as in ''Berserk!'' and ''Mommie Dearest'' into a satirical subtext that ridicules outdated notions of sex, psychiatry and motherhood (think Joan Crawford on crack). From the moment she swivels imperiously onto the stage to complain about how the veal scaloppine she was preparing for dinner exploded in the pressure cooker, Carrie Vinikow, who portrays Mrs. Forrest, Chicklet's domineering mother, steals the show with her uncanny caricature of the late screen legend. It definitely runs in the family.


Luke Brodowski and Tessa Sarvis in Golden West College Theater's "Psycho Beach Party."

"Psycho Beach Party" was something of a transitional work for Busch, coming after his most successful but personally least favorite work, "Vampire Lesbians of Sodom," and before his own favorite and most critically acclaimed effort, "The Lady in Question."  Basing his script on "Gidget" (in fact, the play was almost entitled “Gidget Goes Psychotic”) and psychological Hollywood melodramas, Mr. Busch employs broad camp to soften its rendering of teenage sexual inadequacy, closeted homosexuality, mental illness and mass murder.


The Company in Golden West College Theater's "Psycho Beach Party."

With deftly funny turns, the cast’s timing sparkles throughout. The performances, the hipster-inflected dialogue and period non sequiturs, and the real-gone surf music is all scrupulously modeled from the real thing, with a touch of distancing camp attitude added for spice. Its cheeky, good fun is what makes "Psycho Beach Party" an enjoyable, weightless, romp. But we all need one of those occasionally, don’t we?


WITH: Chicklet – Tessa Sarvis; Berdine/Solo Dancer – Chelsea Caracoza; Marvel Ann – Emily Bolden; Bettina Barnes – Michelle Terrill; Mrs. Forrest – Carrie Vinikow; Dee Dee – Kimberly Montiel; Kanaka – Luke Brodowski; Star Cat – Tristan Lund; Yo-Yo – Ian Pedersen; Provoloney – Andrew Eckstone; Nicky – Taran Silverthistle.


GOLDEN WEST COLLEGE MAINSTAGE THEATER, PRESENTS "PSYCHO BEACH PARTY," By CHARLES BUSCH, Now Playing March 8 - 17, 2024; Directed By TOM AMEN; With Performances Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 PM and Sundays at 2:00 PM. Tickets Available at: http://www.gwctheater.com/psycho-beach-party-march-8-17.../

Chris Daniels

Arts & Entertainment Reviewer

The Show Report

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