Saturday, February 16, 2013

PSYCHO BEACH PARTY • Stray Dog Theatre

High camp is in store for those who check out Stray Dog's latest offering, Charles Busch's Psycho Beach Party, that debuted off-Broadway in 1987.  This lively romp fuses those old beach blanket surfer flicks with a little Alfred Hitchcock, and because it's Charles Busch, there's some drag thrown in for good measure.  Hooray!

Chicklet Forrest (Ben Watts) wants to be a surfer girl on the 1960's Malibu beach scene, but everyone sees her as just a kid.  In addition to this, she's got a little multiple personality issue.  Her most formidable personality is called Ann Bowman -- a femme fatale type out to bring everyone she meets under her sway.

At the start, while Chicklet is hanging out with her friends, the blonde sex-kitteny Marvel Ann (Suzanne Burke), and best buddy, the rather dorky Berdine (Anna Skidis), they meet Kanaka (Paul S. Cooper), the cool kid of the Malibu surf, and his pals, Star Cat (Zach Wachter), a psychiatry student turned surf-bum, and surfer hangers-on, Provoloney (Jake Ferree) and Yo-Yo (Paul Edwards) -- these two are too busy denying the feelings they have for each other.  But none of them take Chicklet's surfing aspirations seriously, until her alter-ego, Ann Bowman, makes an appearance in front of Kanaka.  After a few moments of confusion, this persona gets Kanaka's engines revving.

Ben Watts (Chicklet Forrest), Paul S. Cooper (Kanaka),
Jake Ferree (Provoloney), Sarajane Alverson (Bettina Barnes),
Paul Edwards (Yo Yo) and Anna Skidis (Berdine).
Photo credit: John Lamb
While Kanaka spends his time trying to trigger the reappearance of the dangerous seductress, Chicklet's additional personalities make some hilarious cameos.  There's also a glamorous film actress visiting the beach named Bettina Barnes (Sarajane Alverson), who's trying to lay low and avoid the press as she's trying to get out of her contract.  Actually, she'd probably kill to be in any movie, but she ends up hiring Berdine to be her secretary, while Provoloney and Yo-Yo dream of a career in the film business.  There's also Chicklet's incredibly controlling mother, Mrs. Forrest (a riotous Stephen Peirick), who prefers to do her housework wearing pearls and sipping martinis.

Suzanne Burke (Marvel Ann), Zach Wachter (Star Cat),
Jake Ferree (Provoloney), Ben Watts (Chicklet Forrest),
Paul S. Cooper (Kanaka) and Paul Edwards (Yo Yo).
Photo credit: John Lamb
This cast is full of infectious energy with Watts leading the way as Chicklet.  He switches personalities with convincing over-the-topness, and is splendid in the role.  A close second to his performance is Skidis as Berdine, injecting every moment of her scenes with nerdy goodness.  Peirick wonderfully hams it up with a brilliant turn as Mrs. Forrest, Chicklet's mother.

Justin Been's sound design adds melodramatic musical punctuations that underscore much of the show and the costume design (Alexandra Scibetta Quigley) and scenic design (Justin Been) perfectly complement the action.

Check it out -- it's a great time.

Ben Watts (Chicklet Forrest)
and Stephen Peirick (Mrs. Forrest).
Photo credit: John Lamb

Written by Charles Busch
Directed by Justin Been
Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Ave.
through February 23 | tickets: $18 - $20
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, final Saturday performances are at 2pm and 8pm

Ben Watts (Chicklet Forrest), Paul S. Cooper (Kanaka), Zach Wachter (Star Cat), Jake Ferree (Provoloney), Paul Edwards (Yo-Yo), Anna Skidis (Berdine), Suzanne Burke (Marvel Ann), Stephen Peirick (Mrs. Forrest) and Sarajane Alverson (Bettina Barnes).

Costume design by Alexandra Scibetta Quigley; lighting design by Tyler Duenow; scenic and sound design by Justin Been.

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