‘Psycho Beach Party’ Delivers Outrageously Demented Fun (4 stars)

by Mike Hoban

“Psycho Beach Party” Written by Charles Busch; Directed by Barbara DiGirolamo and Mikey DiLoreto; Choreography by Kiki Samko; Presented by The Happy Medium Theatre Company and Heart & Dagger Productions at the Factory Theatre, 791 Tremont Street, Boston. Performances through August 3rd.

If ever there were a genre of movies that had been underserved by parody, it had to be the Beach Party movies of the sixties. Featuring incredibly wholesome white teenagers with neither acne nor any form of trouble in their lives (other than a lack of PG-rated romance), they were the staple of drive-ins and movie houses of the pre-hippie 60’s. It took until the 1980’s and the beautifully twisted mind of Charles Busch to finally give these relatively harmless but supremely dopey films the treatment they so richly deserve in the form of “Psycho Beach Party” now playing at the Factory Theatre in the South End.

The Happy Medium Theatre Company and Heart & Dagger Productions have produced a terrific version of this demented comedy, fueled by an insanely funny performance by Joey C. Pelletier as Florence “Chicklet” Forrest. Florence has adopted the moniker of “Chicklet” (probably as an homage to Mink Stole’s character in John Waters’ even more disturbing “Female Trouble”) in order to fit in with the beach bums and to fulfill her dream of becoming surfing’s first female star. Chicklet is a smart but socially and physically awkward (and flat-chested) 16 year old and she is joined at the beach by her best friends, boy-crazy Marvel-Ann and the Jean Paul Sartre-spouting (and Plain Jane) Berdine (the lightning-tongued Elizabeth Battey) as they go on a “manhunt” at the beach.

The sexy and suggestive Marvel-Ann is pounced on right away by psychiatry student turned beach bum Star Cat, while Chicklet and Berdine are ridiculed by the beach studs. Not to be deterred from her surfing dream, Chicklet presses on, trying to get the beach’s surf champ/stoner-philosopher (reminiscent of The Dude in the “Big Lebowsky”) Kanaka to teach her the ways of the surfboard. She is rebuffed until one of her “Sybil’-like personalities – a debutante dominatrix named Ann Bowman – emerges and seduces Kanaka with cruelty and humiliation until he is smitten with her and relents. The multiple personality genre (like “Psycho” and “The Three Faces of Eve”) is the perfect plot device to mash-up with Beach Party silliness, and the rest of Chicklet’s personalities (a sassy African American cashier, a radio talk show host, and a male model named Steve) add some big laughs to the already absurd plot.

There is also a pretty funny subplot running throughout, as B-movie sex bomb Bettina Barnes (the wonderfully cast Lauren Foster) has run away from her latest trashy film (a sequel to “Sex Kittens from Outer Space) in order to re-invent herself as a serious actress with the help of the teens. And of course, there’s the BIG EVENT of the summer that’s on everybody’s mind in the form of the Big Luau – with a talent show.

This show has a solid cast (including a nicely warped take on overbearing moms by Audrey Lynn Sylvia) but this is truly Pelletier’s show. As the hopelessly out-of-place-in-any-world Chicklet, Pelletier is an absolute scream. His twisted facial expressions as Chicklet as well as his over-the-top, high status dominatrix bent on world domination are priceless. The intimate 50-seat Factory Theatre is the ideal venue for this show, just to get an up-close look at Pelletier. Battey also does a great job as Berdine, especially when she’s interpreting her teen experience with a combination of 60’s teen-speak and Philosophy 101 with a machine gun-like delivery.

There is also some pretty cool choreography in the scenes where Chicklet learns to surf and in some of the quasi-dance numbers in this non-musical production. And if you’ve never seen a beach movie or one of the black and white psychological thrillers about multiple personalities and are afraid you’ll miss what they’re parodying – don’t. My friend who accompanied me is a 30-year old Russian graduate student who has no idea who Norman Bates or Annette Funicello are, and she loved it. I was laughing uncontrollably at some of the scenes myself. If you’re looking for some summer fun, “Psycho Beach Party” is the place to be.

For more about the show, see www.thefactorytheatre.org.