Psycho Beach Party is yet another outrageous parody of B movies and pop psychology--and it's somewhat brighter and cleverer than most. The cast at Theatre on Broadway is right on down the line, but the show depends upon the ingenious antics of its star, Andrew Shoffner, to really make it kick.
The story combines elements from the Gidget TV series, a host of beach-party movies, Mommy Dearest and Sybil, and a host of more obscure movie references that resonate with every insomniac's memories of the late show and Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Chicklet (a boyish teenage girl who hasn't developed like the other "chicks" in her group) arrives at the beach to learn to shoot the curl with the chief of the surf bums, Kanaka. But the lord of the beach thinks surfing is a mystical calling unsuited to the female gender and won't pay any attention to tomboy Chicklet until she suddenly transforms into Ann Bowman, temptress, dominatrix and psycho--all at the mention of the word "red." When Chicklet snaps back to her former identity as a bouncy teen with an innocent zest for life, we soon learn why she is so very, very crazed: Her mother, Mrs. Forrest, likes to play with ropes.
A movie star named Bettina Barnes (her chief claim to fame: Sex Kittens in Outer Space) shows up next on the beach, looking for a screenwriter and a serious picture in which to display all her "talents." Gold-lame Bettina (played with terrific dumb-blonde goofiness by Shelly Bordas) quickly garners all the male attention.
Meanwhile, Chicklet hangs out with her best friends--Berdine, a nerdy egghead who reads Sartre, and Marvel Ann, teen slut--wishing she, like Marvel Ann, had boobs. We all know why Marvel Ann (a delightfully broad performance by Leslie Jespersen Henson) is so darn mean to her friends--they're dragging her down, man, and she wants Star Cat, the coolest dude on the beach. Star Cat has decided to drop out of school and follow the sun--pre-med is a drag, and who wants to be a psychiatrist, anyway?
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T. Mark Kraft gives an appropriately wooden performance as Star Cat--he reminds you of every bleached-blond hunk in every beach-party movie ever made. David Russell has great stage presence--he's terribly comfortable as Kanaka, king of the beach and sex slave. Maggie Ebert builds sweet style and intelligence into Berdine. And Jeff Roark is absolutely monstrous--and I mean that in the best sense--as Mrs. Forrest.
The show, though, belongs to the mercurial Andrew Shoffner as Chicklet. Small, well-built (for a guy), he never exaggerates the female too far. His parodies of a range of movie characters are wondrous to behold, and even at their most extreme, they're always clever and restrained enough to tickle rather than overwhelm.
Nicholas Sugar's direction is always lively, well-paced and impish--and this bit of fluff by playwright Charles Busch is good enough for late-night.