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Wednesday, 13 February 2013 16:41

Life's a Beach… Party!

Written by Tina Farmer
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Life's a Beach… Party!
straydogtheatre.org / John Lamb

Stray Dog Theatre’s production of Charles Busch’s “Psycho Beach Party,” is a spirited romp through the “golden age” of beach and surf movies that playfully, occasionally darkly, jabs at the funny bone.

Strong performances from the entire cast keep the energy up through most of the play, and the stylized set, playful retro costumes and sound design all perfectly complement the irreverent show.

The high-energy, fun-in-the-sun tribute to 1960’s beach culture and b-movies is saturated with classic stereotypes, pop-culture references and laugh-out-loud sight gags delivered in a fast-paced production that never takes itself too seriously. Still, the show manages to convey a real warmth and affection for the genre that I found surprisingly sweet; even in their darkest moments, and beneath all the camp and circumstance, the characters felt genuine.

The story centers on Chicklet Forrest, a teenage girl who really, really wants to learn to surf. Chicklet’s confusion about her burgeoning sexuality, overprotective mother, and a desire to please everyone only complicate the matter. And, then, there are her multiple personalities.

Played with a spot-on sense of timing by Ben Watts, Chicklet undergoes numerous, extreme personality changes with unwavering conviction. Watching Watts move so easily, even effortlessly, between the different personalities is pure delight. From the first shift, which caught me off guard, to the rapid-fire exchange between Chicklet’s personalities during the climatic scene, Watts skillfully and seamlessly delivers a complete character for each persona. The result is a powerful performance, and Watts is charming and engaging at each turn.

Watts is by no means alone at this “Psycho Beach Party.” Each actor embraces his or her character – flaws, sunburn and all. Aspiring psychiatrist and local heartthrob Star Cat, played with a pleasant eagerness by Zach Wachter, is a perfect foil to Chicklet’s over-the-top turns. Best friend Bernadine, played with a convincing touch of brainy self-awareness by Anna Skidis, is a sympathetic guide for the audience.

The other supporting characters also make pitch-perfect choices in their performances, a credit to the cast and director Justin Been. Jake Ferree and Paul Edwards are beguiling and awkwardly hilarious as star-crossed lovers. Stephen Peirick flexes his range as Chicklet's mother, a woman with a spotless house, menacing laugh and deep dark secret of her own. Sarajane Alverson hits all the right notes, at turns demanding diva and insecure muse, in her role as the token movie star, and Paul S. Cooper and Suzanne Burke are comically endearing as Kanaka and Marvel Ann.

Running now through February 23rd at Stray Dog Theatre, the third show in the company’s tenth season invites the audience to take a trip away from the ordinary with this clever, imaginative production. For reservations and more information, visit www.straydogtheatre.org.

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