Psycho Beach Party
Johnson County Fairgrounds — Through Nov. 1
In his program notes for Psycho Beach Party, director Louis Edward Doerge says of the show that, “at its core, it’s a love letter to film.” That homage is evident from the start, and many elements of the production highlight and emphasize those aspects of the script.
Psycho Beach Party is a deft parody of ’60s teen comedy, with a darker undercurrent that takes a while to gain traction. There is a sub-plot that gets glossed over due to some imprecise work in the opening sequence and, although it’s mentioned a couple of times and gets a call-back during the last scene, is never really satisfyingly addressed by either the script or the production. The main plot makes up for that, however, by offering a payoff for its slow build. The show’s resolution is pleasantly ludicrous, and treated with just the right mix of pathos and absurdity by the company. There are, in the final scene (and whenever there are more than three or four actors onstage at once), issues with sightlines and upstaging, but that only distracts from the fun momentarily.
Where the shows struggles, perhaps, is where it fails to take advantage of the theatrical elements that are woven in alongside that homage. This cleverly acted and engaging show stutters through overlong transitions and suffers when the delightfully broad characterizations get in the way of real engagement between the characters. It’s at its best, however, when the skilled comic actors in the cast are allowed free reign. It’s clear that the actors are thrilled to be on stage playing together and their chemistry is palpable.
The over-the-top bombast of Joe Kapp (Kanaka) and Lacy Papazis (Marvel Ann) is balanced perfectly by the sincerity of Beverly E. Mead (Mrs. Forrest) and Heather Johnson (Berdine). They set up wonderful goal posts for Isabel Cody, as Chicklet and her many personalities, to bounce between. Unfortunately, they leave the rest of the cast to flounder in a middle ground. It was never quite clear in which world the other characters landed. There was a missed opportunity in the one scene between Mead and Johnson. Their characters’ intensity played so well against the camp of the others and I found myself wishing that they had played their scene together perfectly straight, channeling that intensity into something dark instead of succumbing to camp themselves.
Cody, as Chicklet, was fractured, flexible and very funny. She played her transitional moments well, melting from one personality into another with decisiveness. The only thing that disappointed was some of her physical work, which could have benefited from clearer direction. Other stand-outs included Pete Baldwin, who exercised some solid comedic chops as Provoloney, while also delivering rare sincere connection between characters, in some of his scenes with Gabriel Basile’s Yo-Yo. Overall, the staging was a bit stiff and characters seldom connected. At times, this seemed to be consistent with the genre, but even if it was intentional it was still distracting.
The biggest miss of the show, however, was in the scene transitions. Each of the major set changes coincided with a “Dear Diary” entry from Berdine, in what seemed to me an effort by the playwright to provide cover for the transitions. They were not used that way, however, instead having the Berdine bits stand alone, and then shifting the stage. That felt confusing, and seemed like a waste of the audience’s time, especially in a show that already suffered from pacing issues in the script itself.
Overall, Psycho Beach Party is a very, very silly and campy show well worth seeing. The play is presented with no intermission and the cast’s energy never flags. It is clear that they are all enjoying every moment of the production and their joy is infectious.
Psycho Beach Party runs through Nov. 1 at the Johnson County Fairgrounds. Tickets are available online.