Not Psycho Enough: 'Psycho Beach Party' at Morgan-Wixon Theatre
Charles Busch's 1960s beach movie parody play, Psycho Beach Party, is playing at Morgan-Wixon Theatre in Santa Monica. Busch's script follows central character Chicklet Forrester, a bubbly and impressionable Malibu surfer girl with a sadistic alter-ego named Ann Bowman who has world domination aspirations. The Morgan-Wixon production is funny and pleasantly enjoyable, but overall this production does not fully wield the dark underbelly of tacky kitsch that Psycho Beach Party demands.
You might be familiar with the cult-destined, drag-driven film version from 2000, but Psycho Beach Party was originally envisioned by Busch as a stage venture. The work opened Off-Broadway in 1987 with Busch himself leading the cast as Chicklet. At the time, Stephen Holden's New York Times review basically called the production a little slice of campy heaven.
The cast of this production of Psycho Beach Party is variously talented, with a few standouts. Emily Kottler gives a perfect, well-timed, and genial performance as Berdine, Chicklet's brainy, Sartre-loving best friend. Heidi Appe is hilarious as Chicklet's mother, Mrs. Forrest. Appe truly grasps the notion that Psycho Beach Party is supposed to be a blatantly tawdry and indulgent construct to great comedic effect. Cast lead Taylor D'Andrea is comfortably suited to the role of Chicklet, although she struggles to really differentiate the multiple personalities attached to her character.
Under the direction of William Wilday, Psycho Beach Party is entertaining, flows well and has an awesome surfing scene, but the show doesn't truly own up to the kitschy side of the play. The production needs to punch up the lewd-factor to the most absurd level possible to fully blossom into the crude and vulgar flower that Busch intended it to be. The production yearns for a drag lead, crashing wave sounds, real sand, and fewer teen-squeal noises. Psycho Beach Party has lots of fun beachy, 60s era staging elements, courtesy of Thomas A. Brown (set design) and Ruth Talley (costuming).
Psycho Beach Party is playing through May 20 at Morgan-Wixon Theatre in Santa Monica. Tickets are $10 to $18 and available online or via phone at 310-828-7519.