Some may consider campy theater an acquired taste. The outrageous artifice and overblown emotion can prompt eye rolls in sophisticates who gravitate toward Shakespeare’s rhyming couplets. But Richmond Triangle Players’ staging of “Psycho Beach Party” has enough surprises and charm to win over even the most camp-averse theatergoers.
Working with a script by renowned envelope pusher Charles Busch of “Vampire Lesbians of Sodom” fame, director Penny Ayn Maas fully commits to this wacky mash-up that twists the wholesome “Frankie and Annette” movies of the 1960s into a trippy psycho-drama mystery with a strong side of gay pride. And while some members of her young cast have trouble balancing goofiness and gravitas, the lead actors all shine — and the frequent flashes of muscular midsections are sure to keep many patrons happy.
“Psycho” follows the misadventures of Chicklet (Brent Gallahan), an underdeveloped Malibu Beach bunny who begs surfer king Kanaka (Stevie Rice) to teach her to shoot the curls with the boys. That seems straightforward enough until Chicklet’s multiple personalities emerge, including a dominatrixlike aggressor calling herself Ann Bowman, who seems responsible for a series of weird assaults along the beach.
There’s plenty of craziness to exploit with that premise alone, but Busch’s script throws in a smorgasbord of relationship drama to add more froth to the mix. Psychology program dropout Star Cat (Milo Pfeffer) is pursued by sex kitten Marvel Ann (Louise Keeton), and roommates Yo-Yo (Lucian Restivo) and Provoloney (Ethan Malamud) fight their natural attraction for each other. Meanwhile, Chicklet’s erratic behavior spurs her best friend Berdine (Madeline Lovegrove) to drastic action.
Just when it seems things can’t get more complicated, movie star Bettina Barnes (Jessi Johnson), who is trying to escape the grind in Hollywood, arrives to upend the existing dynamics.
This wild menagerie might dissolve into a panache of campy flamboyance if not for Maas’ steady hand at the wheel. She keeps the play’s pace just shy of frenetic so that the occasional ribald gem in Busch’s script shines brightly. She’s assisted by an active lighting design from Michael Jarett that helps delineate Chicket’s personality transitions in addition to giving Frank Foster’s simple but versatile set a bright, sun-soaked look. Special recognition should be given to Joel Furtrick’s hair and makeup design, particularly in transforming Daniel Cimo into the severely attractive Mrs. Forrest, Chicklet’s domineering mother.
Gallahan takes on the “Three Faces of Chicklet” challenge with smashing results, successfully inhabiting big personalities in striking contrast to his diminutive frame. Cimo also creates a bigger-than-life character, his Stepford-wife-on-steroids portrayal providing the most laughs per lines of dialogue. Johnson seems to be having a blast as the seriously self-impressed actress and Rice skillfully reveals the unexpected desires that lurk under Kanaka’s “totally dude” persona.
As the show hurtles to a close, some momentum is lost because of an odd talent-show introductory bit and a few clunky chunks of exposition. Some characters, like Berdine, get lost in the shuffle. Still, Maas manages to wrangle all of the competing plots into a gratifying and, dare I say, touching conclusion, demonstrating that transcending camp’s limitations may just require going a little “Psycho.” S
“Psycho Beach Party” runs at the Richmond Triangle Players theater at 1300 Altamont Ave. through Aug. 15. For tickets and information visit rtriangle.org or call 346-8113.