|Rachel Jaques as "Chicklet"|
By Tina Arth
When a simple Washington County girl ventures out to the North Portland theater scene, I guess she’s got to expect that things will get a little weird. However, previous productions at Twilight Theater Company definitely had not prepared me for the very funny, oddly charming, extremely bizarre Psycho Beach Party. Playwright Charles Busch (also widely acclaimed for such classics as Vampire Lesbians of Sodom and Die, Mommie, Die!) has created the ultimate sixties comedy/horror/surf movie parody – first shown on stage in 1987, and translated to the big screen in 2000. Ravyn Jazper-Hawke, through a series of imaginative choices in casting and direction, has given the show a distinctly Portland flavor (including classic Pacific Northwest style snow-white limbs on some of her surf bunnies). The absence of any attempt to imbue the tale with even the slightest redeeming social value allows the cast and audience to just relax for a couple of hours of adult-themed playfulness.
Whether you remember Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello fondly or with a tinge of embarrassment (or have no memory of them at all, courtesy of your youth or an overly enthusiastic embrace of sixties drug culture), the show should strike several chords of recognition – think Mommie Dearest meets Psycho meets Rear Window meets Gidget/Beach Blanket Bingo., and stir in just a soupçon of Three Faces of Eve. The final product is the story of flat-chested tomboy Chicklet, a wannabe surfer, and her beach-loving companions. Master surfer Kanaka reluctantly agrees to give Chicklet surf lessons, but soon learns that the word “red” causes her to shift to one of her alternate personalities. We soon learn that Mrs. Forrest (Chicklet’s mom) is a bit unhinged – could she be the perpetrator of the weird attacks that are plaguing Malibu? What about runaway Hollywood legend Bettina? Or buddies Provoloney and Yo Yo, clumsily trying to find their way out of the closet and into the sun? Will the audience and cast have a sighting of the dreaded Land Shark? These questions and many more can only be answered by going to see the play!
Several performances are particularly noteworthy. Rachel Jaques (as “Chicklet”) plays her scrawny ingénue with a lot of heart, and does a fine job of switching to the dominatrix Ann and Southern store clerk Tylene at the drop of a word (aided by ominous lighting shifts). Alastair Morley (“The Great Kanaka”) is masterfully pretentious as a cigarette-puffing surf god who turns into a puddle of terrified masochism whenever Ann’s persona emerges. Amanda Anderson (as the nerd “Berdine”) and Eva Andrews (as man-hungry “Marvel Ann”) are satisfyingly stereotypical. By all means watch for the odd (OK, very odd) chemistry between Marty Winborne (“Provoloney”) and Ted Hartsook (“Yo Yo”), manly Malibu men aspiring to Hollywood fame and fortune but lacking any of the usual prerequisites.
For me, the real tour de force is Bee Philip (okay, we all know it’s Benjamin Philip in drag) as “Mrs. Forrest.” He is the Hollywood dragon-lady personified, as coldly manipulative and evil as any aspiring Joan Crawford. When he cries, “You don’t know how repugnant it is to have a man’s sweaty thing poking at you” and then pulls out a jock strap (“…a peter belt. This is the pouch that holds their swollen genitalia”) we start to understand why poor Chicklet might have a spare personality or two.
The staging is simple – lots of beach balls and a few flexible backdrops to create the Forrest home, Kanaka’s shack, and of course the sands of Malibu. Perhaps the evening’s most sustained laugh came from the scene where Chicklet and the boys are actually out surfing – a bit of clever stagecraft that really works. Costumes are appropriate to both period and place, which makes them even funnier on the unlikely physiques of the actors. Finally, the sound is pure fun – a cheesy theme song supplemented by the real surf music of the era. The combinations of these elements makes for a bizarrely entertaining production – just don’t bring the kids!
Twilight Theater Company’s Psycho Beach Party is playing at the Performing Arts Theater, 7515 N. Brandon Avenue, Portland through Saturday, June 25th with performances at 8 P.M. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and Sunday matinees at 3 P.M.