This review of Psycho Beach Party at Studio Theatre Long Island was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!
Psycho Beach Party
Written by Charles Busch
Directed by Scott Hofer
Studio Theatre Long Island
141 South Wellwood Avenue
Lindenhurst, New York 11757
Charles Busch wrote Psycho Beach Party, which opened at the Players Theater in New York City in 1987. In it, he played Chicklet, a flat-chested, sixteen-year-old, virgin girl hanging out on Malibu Beach in 1962 whose major ambition was to learn to surf. The play is a spoof that pokes fun at Beach Blanket Bingo style movies as well as Psycho, Mommie Dearest and Hitchcock's Marnie all at the same time. Chicklet suffers from a multiple personality disorder and at the mention of anything "red," she turns into Ann Bowman, a Dominatrix (Mistress Ann) who is committed to conquering and ruling planet Earth. Chicklet also becomes Ann whenever faced with any potential sexual situation. She is suspected of knocking teens unconscious and then shaving off all their hair, both in the pubic and scalp regions (supposedly as a result of her acting out some sort of erotic humiliation fantasy she may have). Her splintered personality can be traced back to when she was 7 1/2 years old and the direct cause of her twin brother's death. Her mother, who was a former prostitute (named Ann Bowman) blamed herself, moved to a new town and changed her name. Perhaps the mention of the color red or items colored red that trigger Chicklet's personality changes have to do with the blood she saw on her dead brother. (In the movie Marnie, the color red triggers Marnie's personality change. In that film, her mother was also a prostitute and the red represents the blood from the abusive john she murdered as a child to protect her mom.)
Mrs. Forrest (Chicklet's Joan Crawford-style mother) has continued to traumatize her daughter by warning her of the evils of sex. Holding a jockstrap in her hand (which may have belonged to a foreign exchange student who stayed in their home), Mrs. Forrest, in her famed puritanical speech to her daughter warning her about engaging in sexual intercourse, says, "I know how they paint it so beautifully in the movies. A man and a woman locked in an embrace, soft lighting, a pitcher of Manhattans, Rachmaninoff in the background. Well, my girl, let me tell you that is not how it is. You don't know how repugnant it is having a sweaty man's thing poking at you. (She jabs her finger multiple times into Chicklet's body). Do you like that?"
Besides Chicklet becoming Ann Bowman (who The Great Kanaka is attracted to since he gets sexually turned on by being her slave), she also has a number of other personalities she is harboring, including a couple of singers, a reformed Rabbi, a politician, and Steve, a male model who represents the athletic part of Chicklet. With Kanaka willing to teach her how to surf, Chicklet gets $25.00 from her best friend Berdine so she can buy a surfboard. Chicklet (who has still not turned into "a full-grown chick" like the other girls on the beach), turns out to be a great surfer and is accepted by the other male surfers who include Kanaka, Star Cat (a psychiatry student who has dropped out of college), Provoloney (who hosts the Provoloney Pacific Follies at the annual Luau/BBQ), and Yo-Yo (who is good with hanging plants and does wonderful things with hibiscus). Marvel Anne is the beach slut who hooks up with Star Cat, and Yo-Yo and Provoloney are shacking up together as friends who are not yet fully aware of their sexual attraction to one another, which reveals itself when they are rehearsing "a heterosexual seduction scene" for a treatment they are writing together. Berdine gets jealous of Chicklet's new popularity, and Chicklet's mother, fearful of the bad influence these beach bums are having on her daughter, threaten to have them arrested for having inappropriate relations with her. To make sure they know she is serious, her parting line to them is, "Don't fuck with me fellers!" (A reference to a line in the movie Mommie Dearest). The final cast member is Bettina Barnes, a starlet who runs aways from the movie studio in hopes of breaking her contract and studying under Lee Strasberg. Bettina is not the brightest star in the sky. When asked, "Are you incognito?", she responds, "No. I'm German-Irish."
Psycho Beach Party is a hilarious spoof of beach party movies of the early 1960s. It will keep you entertained from start to finish. Scott Hofer, the Director, deserves much of the credit for making this production the great success it was. There is a cleverly done "surfing montage" in the play that is absolutely fabulous. The entire ensemble cast consists of top-notch talent. Aunt Barbara (the alter-ego of Robert Suchan) dominates the stage as Mrs. Forrest, the strict, overly dramatic mother who complains how "the veal scallopini she was preparing for dinner exploded in the pressure cooker" and insists her daughter Florence "is as normal as I am." Mark T. Cahill was so good portraying Chicklet I had to ask a friend during intermission if the actor playing Florence was really a man despite my having seen his flat chest when he was changing into a bathing suit. The third extraordinary cross-dressing performance was by Eric Clavell, who played the sexually promiscuous Marvel Anne. Dressed in extremely short, tight dresses leaving not an inch of material to spare, I wondered where she packed any unwanted protuberance. There was none to be seen. Nikki Schettino did a fine job as the nerdy, but loyal, Berdine, Chicklet's best friend forever, and Davina Roberts, who played Bettina Barnes in the show I saw, successfully captured the attitude required of a famous Hollywood starlet. The only problem with Ms. Robert's performance was that she failed to properly project her voice, making it difficult for the audience to hear a number of her lines.
As for the boys, Steve Incarnato was very believable as The Great Kanaka, both in his portrayal of a confident surfer (and leader of the pack) and as a sexually dominated slave (Ann Bowman once said to him, "I thought you were the man with the Big Cigar but you must be packing a Tiparillo," which only turned him on more). Charles Jacker excelled as Star Cat, the college dropout who took three semesters of psychology and was able to reunite Chicklet's fractured personalities during a five-minute psychoanalysis session. When at first he was having difficulty communicating directly with Chicklet, he chalked it up to "a bad connection." Sal Canepa, who very convincingly played Yo-Yo, suggested, "maybe you should try FM." Matt Stashin was perfect as Provoloney. He and Yo-Yo had a great rapport on stage and were very believable as guys in a close friendship that turned into something more. What might otherwise have been considered unnecessary roles in the play were turned into an essential part of the action by these two fine actors. Political incorrectness and bullying were not absent from Charles Busch's 1962 Malibu Beach. The virginal Berdine and Chicklet were told, "You two Queer Bait should get a license and marry one another" and while they were playing Siamese Twins during the Provoloney Pacific Follies and Chicklet turned into Ann Bowman, she objected to Berdine touching her by saying, "Get your hands off me you blithering bull dike."
If you are a broadminded theater-goer who enjoys an adult comedy with wacky characters, cross-dressing, and unexpected plot twists and turns, Psycho Beach Party is the play for you! I loved it and I strongly urge you to see it while you can. It runs through May 15, 2016. Tickets cost $25.00 and can be purchased at Studio Theatre Long Island's website located at https://www.studiotheatreli.com/get-tickets/ For more information, call 631-226-8400.