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|A CurtainUp Review
Psycho Beach Party
By Jerry Weinstein
The fault lies not in the text. Writing for the stage since the mid 1970’s, Charles Busch was never simply an underground playwright, he’s always been something of an impresario. In the last decade he’s taken his sensibility uptown with the off-Broadway success of Shanghai Moon, the Tony-nominated Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, and the book to the Boy George musical Taboo.
While the film adaptation of his play Psycho Beach Party was well-received, it did take some liberties with the original script with its addition of a serial killer subplot. When director Mark Cannistraro concluded that it was time to reexamine this hoot which first appeared in 1987 he decided to be faithful to the original text.
Psycho Beach Party, which sends up Gidget and Three Faces of Eve, with a few Hitchcockian twists for good measure, demonstrates just how unintentionally difficult is it to make farce sing.
As the play’s lead Michael Conte (Chicklet/Ann Bowman) -- who bears a striking resemblance to Mary Woronov of Eating Raoul fame -- is game to fill the ample pumps of Busch. Rounding out the ensemble is a cast of newcomers. To quote from Susan Sontag’s definition of Camp – "Camp sees everything in quotation marks. It's not a lamp, but a lamp; not a woman, but a woman." The problem here is that much of the young cast is not in on the joke.
Newcomers Eli Eagle (Star Cat) and Hawaiian transplant Joel Halpern (Kanaka) possess a natural charisma, but it seems that they are in a different play than Chicklet and Mrs. Forrest (a man-eating Jacquelyn Poplar who clearly gets it). Cynthia Pierce’s take on Marilyn Monroe (Bettina Barnes) pales in comparison to the explosive rage and bombastic sexuality that Carla Gugino channeled in After the Fall.
While Frankie and Annette beach movies are forty years out of date and the gay icondom of Joan Crawford is fast becoming a Stonewall trivia question, the play itself remains ribald and subversive. What it demands is a je ne sais quoi, a gay sensibility, to bring the words alive.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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Mendes at the Donmar
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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