IF YOU GO
What: Hilarious send-up of 1960s beach-bunny films
When: 8 p.m. Friday & Saturday; July 13 & 14, 20 & 21, 27 & 28
Where: Kiwanis Hall, 1634 Woodford Avenue, downtown Fort Myers
Information: 239-218-0481 or laboratorytheaterflorida.com
On the Web: Sign up to receive more theater news from the Stage Door blog via email.
FORT MYERS — Sand. Sun. Surfboards. Boys. Bikinis. Beaches. It's a party! A "Psycho Beach Party!" And laughs. Don't forget the laughs. The Lab Theater has plenty of those in their production of the Charles Busch comedy playing through the end of July in downtown Fort Myers.
See. There's this girl Chicklet (because she's a baby chick). And a boy, Starcat. Beach bum Kanaka and best friend Berdine play a role. So do dopey boy toys Yo-Yo and Provoloney. The gang hangs out, catches waves and rides the hormones of a teenage summer in 1962 Malibu Beach.
Playwright and female impersonator Charles Busch (best known for "The Tale of the Allergist's Wife") wrote the script. "Psycho Beach Party" ran for 344 performances Off-Broadway in 1987-88; the 2000 film version, starring Lauren Ambrose as Chicklet, became a cult hit.
The stage version features fewer characters and tangled plotlines than the film. The Lab Theater also keeps the drag casting of the Off-Broadway original; Busch had originally played the 16-year-old Chicklet.
Director Gary Obeldobel corrals his mostly young charges along on this fun, sassy and fairly lightweight game of beach blanket bingo with effervescent glee. The show retains its sharp, witty edges - but often doesn't go far enough over the top to make the night truly memorable. About half the cast grasps the fact that they're mocking beach bunny films; the others meander along on good looks, sculpted abdominals and poppy costumes.
Chris Cooper dons the orange flip-flops, flowered skirt and bright bikini top of surfer girl Chicklet. A touch of blush and a flowing brunette wig sit surprisingly well on his skinny frame. He makes the look work, all gawky limbs and self-conscious stares - flipping Chicklet's hair, cooing at Starcat's muscles and flirting with the surfer boys with Berdine.
One of the night's best - and unintentionally funny - scenes comes as Cooper whips off his top to change into his bikini during a beach scene. The reveal (that Chicklet is, in fact, a boy brings laughs. But that's not the funny part.
Marvel Ann (Monisha Holmes) and Berdine (Ashley Graziano) hold up a towel as Chicklet changes. The audience sees Cooper's arms go up through the tiny bikini top - and then we hear signs of struggle. The strap is caught in the wig, which goes flying. The young actors display poise beyond their years - and turn the scene into a quippy laugh-fest between three pouting friends.
Graziano ducks behind to help, while Holmes grabs the beach blanket and starts firing off one-liners as arms, bikini straps and hair goes flying in all directions. "Can you hurry up?" "What's taking so long?" "Don't you know the boys are coming?" Not to be outdone, Cooper fires back: "What do you think it is like for me back here?" Unless you noticed the wig go off his head, the routine could almost have been choreographed - and it was just as funny as if it had been.
Holmes herself delivers a scene-stealing turn as uptight, boy-hungry Marvel Ann. Look for her vampy entrances in a black-and-white bikni and boldly-patterened wrap. Both she and Graziano get the over-the-top franticness that defines the show. Berdine's hysterical diary entries, which the actress delivers in a breathless, end-of-the-world doom voice punctuate the scenes with glee.
Chris Hughes (YoYo) and Christopher Michael Ortiz (Provoloney) bring goofy charm as beach boys experiencing forbidden love. Yes. That kind of forbidden love.
Kenneth Cosmo Ruisi scores one of his best roles in years by donning the fright wig, mis-applied lipstick and tattered lime green nightgown of Mrs. Forrest, Chicklet's no-sex, no-boys, no-fun mother. Whether whipping a jockstrap right out of his (her?) bosoms, poking Chicklet in the ribcage as a reminder of what S-E-X might feel like or preaching about the evils of boys, Ruisi's scenes bring laughter. His voice hits the perfect combination of screech owl and harridan; the character makes the show.
Costumes, uncredited in the program, delight. Everything from Marvel Ann's fashionable beach ensemble to the breezy, blue tropical-inspired print that unites the surfer dudes gives an air of summer, the beach and the sun. Mike Dinko's basic but perfectly serviceable set conveys the beach with a minimum of fuss and a few cans of blue and tan paint.
"Psycho Beach Party" has plenty of zip, but it really needed that extra push in certain spots to make the evening a real, roaring success. Still, as the raindrops fall outside and the clouds gather, Chicklet, Starcat, Kanaka, Berdine, Marvel Ann, YoYo, Provoloney and the gang can - and will - whisk you away to Malibu Beach for a luau and some laugh. Hang ten dude!
What's your favorite surfer movie? Email me, email@example.com, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.