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Saturday, November 8, 2014

Psycho Beach Party


Playwright: Charles Busch
CompanyTheatreworks
Venue:  The Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theater, 3955 Regent Circle, Colorado Springs CO, 80918.
Running Time:  90 minutes (no intermission).
Date of Performance:  Thursday, November 6, 2014 
There's a timeless innocent charm to the beach party film genre of the 1960s.  Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello, Sandra Dee, James Darren, and even Elvis Presley appeared in swimwear and sunscreen.  The stories were formulaic, usually containing boyfriend/girlfriend conflicts, surf, romance, and lots of bikinis.  Despite their thin plots, the beach party films in many ways defined the period; they brought California to the forefront of pop culture.  For those of us who lived in middle America, the beach parties were the new American Dream. 
Charles Busch's Psycho Beach Party script turns that formula on its head with Chicklet (Doug Atkins), his nerdy female lead with multiple personalities and her abusive mother, Mrs. Forrest (Kate Berry).  Sprinkle in some surfer dudes, some seriously sexy bikini models, a diva named Bettina (Jessica Parnello), and an equally nerdy BFF (Bethany Eilean Talley as Berdine), and you have the perfect recipe for a crazy parody of the surf film genre.
L-R:  Bethany Eilean Talley (Bernie), Anna Faye Hunter (Marvel-Ann), Chicklet (Doug Atkins).
This "psycho" beach party requires a cross dressing, gender bending actor of the first order to succeed.  Theatreworks found just the guy:  Doug Atkins. He is marvelous as Chicklet, and one could even call him fetching in drag.  The nickname "Chicklet" refers to his underdeveloped boobs, which he describes with delicious irony as "like a boys" boobs.  
Doug Atkins (Chicklet)
The challenge for Atkins is not just to accurately portray a teenage girl, although that would be a daunting task for many actors.  He also has to portray Chicklet's multiple, alternate personalities.  His "Ann Bowman" character is a voracious, seductive dominatrix.  Watching Atkins' mutate from an innocent, naive, virgin female teenager to the sultry, slutty Ann Bowman is a seamless (and hilarious) acting masterpiece.  He (or should I say "she") is the star of the show, and Atkins makes the most of every moment, every line, and every second he's on stage.
Doug Atkins (Chicklet), Kate Berry (Mrs. Forrest).
Chicklet's mother, Mrs. Forrest (Kate Berry) may well be responsible for the multiple personalities living in Chicklet's head.  She's Busch's version of Joan Crawford; Mommie Dearest in the flesh.  Berry shows us that she has the casual cruelty to tie Chicklet up in a chair; we are hardly surprised to find what an insufferably self absorbed hypocrite she turns out to be.  At each turn, Berry is able to milk the ironic humor from her sadistic character.
Bethany Eilean Talley (Berdine) plays Chicklet's peculiar best friend.  Talley is nerdy, squirrelly, and brainy, all qualities that make for a good friend but an insecure teenaged girl.  She has a very good grasp of 19th and 20th century philosophers, including Sartre, Kant, and Nietzsche.  Talley sparkles as Chicklet's friend; she provides a smart, sassy counterbalance to Chicklet's insecurity and schizophrenia.  
Provoloney (Bryan Dufaud) and Yo Yo (Zach Bailey) are the closeted couple who provide abundant masculine eye candy.  Dufaud and Bailey are as flawless as their six pack abs; they bring color and cuteness to the ensemble.
The set includes an actual sand beach, with limited (5-6) seating available on cushions at the edge of the stage.  There is a surf scene, and Scenic Deisgner Jonathan Wentz' set somehow manages to give the impression that a half dozen actors are actually riding waves.  It's pretty remarkable and has to be seen to be believed.
Psycho Beach Party is not Shakespeare, but it is zany, campy comedy, served up with a helping of guilty pleasure.  As I entered the theater, a stunning actress in a bikini offered me "sex on the beach."  I think she was talking about the pitcher of red potion she was holding.  Just in case that wasn't what she was talking about though (hey...I'm a guy, and we all have fantasies), I politely declined and headed for my seat.  In any event, it was clear from the outset that this was not going to be an ordinary theater event, and it wasn't.  Psycho Beach Party isn't out to change the world.  It's about the "Party" in the title, and that party is much more fun than I expected.  
L-R:  Zach Bailey (Yo Yo), Anna Faye Hunter (Marvel Ann), Alexander J. Niforatos (Nicky).
















NOTES:  
Psycho Beach Part contains adult content, adult language, and simulated sex acts (but no nudity).  Discretion advised for younger folks.
Austin Bluffs Parkway near UCCS seems to be under ceaseless construction that cannot be avoided when going to Theatreworks.  Add 5-10 minutes to your drive time to allow for delays.

This show closes on November 9, 2014. 

Pre or post show dining suggestion:  
Hacienda Colorado, at University Village (North Nevada at Austin Bluffs/Garden of the Gods).  Upscale Mexican food with "altitude," just a few minutes from the theater.  Excellent spicy white queso for starters, and I recommend the carnitas chimichanga entree.  Happy Hour is 3:00-6:00 Monday through Friday, and 11:00-4:30 on weekends.  Draft beers include Corona Light (my favorite), Negro Modelo, Pacifico, and Dos XX Amber. 

Photo CreditsTheatreworks.
Tickets HERE.

Creative Team:
Director:  Kevin Landis
Assistant Director/Props:  Lisa Nell DeVeux
Scenic Designer:  Jonathan Wentz
Lighting Design: Vance Mackenzie
Sound Design:  Alex Ruhlin
Costume Design:  Amy Haines
Stage Manager:  Timothy J. Muldrew

Cast:
Chicklet:  Doug Atkins
Yo Yo:  Zach Bailey
Nicky:  Alexander J. Niforatos
Provoloney:  Bryan Dufaud
Kanaka:  Jordan Matthews
Berdine:  Bethany Eilean Talley
Marvel-Ann:  Anna Faye Hunter
Mrs. Forrest:  Kate Barry
Bettina Barnes:  Jessica Parnello
Star Cat:  Omid Dastan Harrison

DeeDee:  Chloe Kiskiras

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