By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission
So, we’re just about smack dab right in the middle of Maryland, and if you’ve been here for more than a year, you know how crazy the weather can be. It’s summer time and it feels like the middle of autumn… today… tomorrow might feel like the beginning of winter, who knows? However, seeing that we’re in the summer months, if you ever wanted to be a hep cat or a cool chick and ride the waves on the warm, summer beach, StillPointe Theatre has just the ticket for you with their latest production of the kooky Psycho Beach Party by Charles Busch, Directed by Courtney Procter with Set Design by Ryan Haase, Costume Design by Nick Staigerwald, Lighting Design by Lillie Kahkonen, and Sound Design by Todd Mion.
Briefly, Psycho Beach Party is about Chicklet Forrest, a teenager with a personality problem who desperately wants to be in the “in crowd” at Malibu Beach in 1962. Her biggest problem is her personality problem… she has too many of them! These include a Safeway checkout girl, Steve, a male model, and the entire accounting firm of Edelman and Edelman. Her biggest problem, among others, is her alter ego who is a sexual vixen leaning toward Fifty Shades of Grey who wants nothing less than world domination. Along for the ride are some beach bums, the adorable Yo-Yo and Provoloney, the dashing catch and medical school dropout Star Cat, and the King of the Beach, the surf God, Kanaka. Throw in a promiscuous Marvel Ann and Chicklet’s best friend, Berdine, and Mrs. Forrest, you have a twisted tale that’s a cross between the Hitchcock psychological thrillers, Gidget, and a Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello beach party all bunched up in an itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny-little-polka-dot-bikini.
Once again, Set Design by Ryan Haase does not disappoint. Though a little more minimal than his usual flare, his design is perfectly befitting for this piece, cleverly using the natural levels available to him in this intimate space and using more representative rather than a literal design. Haase’s creativity is impeccable with using material like laminate flooring to represent a sandy beach, which works surprisingly well. It’s minimal, but Haase trusts his actors and artistic team to tell this story and his design does not hinder the storytelling in any way, but enhances it. Kudos to Haase for another job well done.
As this is definitely a period piece, costuming can be challenging but Costume Designer Nick Staigerwald seems to have no problem with taking us back a few decades to a Malibu Beach with authentic early 60s style swimsuits that help this piece move along. From the modest but bright and printed bathing suits of the ladies to the not-so-modest, barely-there pastel shorts of the men (which absolutely need to make a comeback), the wardrobe is totally appropriate and adds to these characters adding value to this production.
StillPointe’s Mercury Theatre space is interesting and quite intimate and seems a bit tricky for production but you wouldn’t know it with Light Design and Sound Design by Lillie Kahkonen and Todd Mion, respectively. Kahkonen’s use of isolated lighting for important points in the script is spot on and moves the story along and she cleverly uses the general house lighting, as well, to clearly light the space to make sure we see all the action. All the while, Mion’s well-suited and well thought-out Sound Design is reminiscent of the aforementioned beach movies, utilizing the guitar heavy surf-rock music of the era during the transitions that brings the entire production together.
Courtney Procter takes the Directing reigns and has a clear vision for this curious, wacky piece. She doesn’t take the piece too seriously but just seriously enough that the camp isn’t overdone and the story is clearly told. It really is like watching an early 60s teen beach movie and the pacing is on point. She knows the space well and uses what’s available to her. With great casting and intelligent blocking, Procter gives us an enjoyable evening of quirky theatre that’s perfect for Baltimore.
Moving toward the performance aspect of this production, the entire ensemble deserves props for their work in this piece. Playing 1960s beach teens is a feat in itself but all of these actors found their characters and played them well.
Jess Rivera takes on the role of Marvel Ann and Bevin Keefer tackels the part of Bettina Barnes. Both of these actresses gave quite admirable performances and take the roles to heart as the vixen of the beach (Rivera) and the movie star who wants to be an actress (Keefer). Vocal choices and mannerisms drive these characters home nicely to help move the story along.
John Benoit as Kanaka, a little older and King of the Beach, is believable and has the surf tone down pat. He gives a confident performance if a bit scripted, at times, but that’s more the script itself rather than Benoit’s performance choices. Meanwhile, Andy Fleming takes on the role of Star Cat, the medical school drop-out who might have more to offer than he thinks and he plays the role with a self-assurance that is befitting of the part.
Character-wise, the cute-as-a-couple-of-buttons David Brasinston as Yo-Yo and Rex Anderson as Provoloney have to be my favorite. Did I mention the shorts? I did? I’ll say no more about it then. Brasinston and Anderson make a perfect comic team and exude a certain innocence and naivete that is spot on for these young coming-of-age characters. They play their homo-erotic subplot to the T and are hilarious in the process with their asides and quiet background interactions. The seem comfortable in these roles and look like they’re having a blast which, in turn, makes their characters even more lovable and helps the audience have just as much of a good time as they are. Kudos to these two for brilliant, funny performances.
Kathryn Falcone as Mrs. Forrest is impressive as the uptight, 50s/60s mother who seemingly only wants what’s best for her daughter and may or may not have a sordid past. Her character is already an anomaly for being a single mother in the time period but she plays it to the hilt. Mrs. Forrest does go through a comical, complex transition but Falcone plays it seamlessly giving an authentic performance and she is absolutely dedicated to the role.
Though the entire ensemble gives commendable performances, a couple of highlights of this production are June Keating as Berdine and Christine Demuth as Chicklet.
Keating shines as the good-goody, nerdy, but extremely intelligent Berdine portraying this character with a gentleness and purity that makes you root for her. Her subtle facial expressions and movements make her performance natural and totally believable. She’s a joy to watch and I hope to see more from Ms. Keating in the future.
As Chicklet, the most complex character in this piece, Demuth delves into this character and, for as kooky as Chicklet is, Demuth doesn’t play it too absurd and finds a good balance between camp and sincerity. Her transition from personality to personality is flawless (and quite comical, at times) and she has a great comprehension of this loony girl. Her dedication and commitment to this role make her performance a highlight to this production and a treat to experience.
Final thought… Psycho Beach Party at StillPointe Theatre is a fun, nostalgic, and comedic romp through an era when Frankie and Annette ruled the waves… in the movies, anyway, and everyone wanted to be a hep cat or a cool chick. StillPointe Theatre has managed to embody and represent this era in their intimate space with a colorful set design, authentic costumes, and, overall, a well put together production. The script is quirky and a little zany, but the cast is committed and give their all making for an enjoyable evening of theatre. If the crazy Baltimore weather is getting you down, check out Psycho Beach Party and join the grooviest kids in town for some fun in the sun!
This is what I thought of StillPointe Theater’s production of Psycho Beach Party… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
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