Review by Kitty Drexel
“Psycho Beach Party is an affectionate homage to the beach party movies of the ’60s and Gidget as well as a spoof of psychological suspense films. By that I mean movies such as Hitchcock’s Marnie and Spellbound, or The Three Faces of Eve and The Snake Pit: films where someone has a deep-rooted neurosis and after five minutes of hypnosis a childhood trauma is revealed and the patient is well enough to buy a house in the suburbs and live happily after. Oh, I love them all.” – Charles Busch
(Boston) Adults of a certain age may recall Psycho Beach Party (2000) as a movie staring Buffy the Vampire Slayer heartthrob Nicholas Brendon as Star Cat. The movie also featured Lauren Ambrose as Chicklet and playwright Charles Busch as the sexy Captain Monica Stark (the movie was rewritten to give Mr. Busch a role as he had aged out of his original role as Chicklet). It is an homage to the swinging beach party movies of the 60’s and incorporates the quick and dirty psychology of an Hollywood-type gimmick to redeem the unladylike antics of a female lead. Alas, things have not changed too much for women in 50 years. Ladies still aren’t of conventional value to the public unless they can fill out a top and outwit a room full of boys. In that order.
Fast forward to 2013 and the joint production of Party brought to us by the joint efforts of Happy Medium Theatre Co and Heart & Dagger Prods. The performance begins at a casual Malibu luau staring the cast in various states of undress performing feats of beach ball prowess. I personally believe well-placed near-nudity can only aid a production. At the risk of literally reducing the cast to its parts, I have to say that the cast looks damn good. Kindly shake what your mother and father endowed you with, ladies and gents.
Psycho Beach Party has a lot of promise. The script is well-written and the majority of the actors are quite good. The dance numbers are punchy and fun. The costumes and sound design are thoughtful. But, the show doesn’t work because there isn’t enough “stuff.” With some notable exceptions*, the energy from the cast isn’t big enough; they aren’t loud enough for the audience to hear them without straining; they aren’t bringing the audience into an alternate reality where the Malibu of the show could exist.
This might, in part, be due to the lighting situation. The production’s artistic staff made the decision to cut the lighting design for this project because The Factory Theatre can get hotter than Hell in the summer. 90 minutes under the lights can feel like an eternity in Mount Doom. While a mercy to the population of the theatre for comfort’s sake, the performance loses something without this intrinsic element. If a show doesn’t have lights the cast still has to act as if they do have them. Even the sassy bathing suits of the cast did not make up for the lost pizzaz.
This was a difficult review to write. As an actor and theatre-enthusiast, I enjoyed myself quite thoroughly. As a reviewer, I did not. Happy Medium Theatre Company and Heart & Dagger Productions are capable of creating insightful theatre that tickles the brain and pulls the heart strings. While still entertaining, Psycho Beach Party is not an example of their best work.
*In comparison, Joey Pelletier as Chicklet, Elizabeth Battey as Berdine and Audrey Lynn Sylvia as Mrs. Forrest rocked the casbah.