'Psycho' drag farce goes to the beach


Think of it as "The Three Faces of Gidget" -- in drag.

In one of the most glacial winters in Baltimore history, director Terry J. Long has transformed the tiny Spotlighters Theatre into a slice of sun-drenched Malibu Beach, circa 1960 -- the setting for Charles Busch's corny, campy, comic "Psycho Beach Party."

In Sixties lingo, it's a groovy way to come in out of the cold -- unless, of course, drag comedies about psycho teen-agers aren't your bag, in which case, you are forewarned and should stay home.

But to get back to the beach, Busch populates it with brawny surfers with names like Star Cat and Kanaka and fetching teen-age girls with names like Marvel Ann and Chicklet -- except these chicks are played by boychiks (to add a bit of Yiddish to Busch's already mixed metaphor).

The plot concerns Chicklet's determination to learn to surf, despite the protests of her mother -- played by Harry Susser as a larger-than-life, Joan Crawford-esque matriarch -- and the local surfers, who insist this particular water sport is a male-only activity.

There's another problem as well. Goody-goody Chicklet is a victim of multiple personalities and has a pesky habit of turning into a sex-crazed dominatrix every time she hears the word "red." As Patrick Field's bewildered Kanaka puts it, she's "like two, two, two Chicklets in one."

Bryan Dingle, who starred in last season's double bill of Busch drag comedies at the Spotlighters, has just the right wide-eyed sincerity as naive Chicklet. (I loved it when Dingle earnestly proclaimed: "I'm hopeless. I'm built just like a boy!") Without the least self-consciousness, Dingle finesses Chicklet's personality changes, shaking his head and lips like a horse as sweet Chicklet turns into a fire-breathing nymphomaniac.

Director Long's delightfully hokey staging contributes significantly to the fun of this spoof of silly Sixties movies. When two male surfers suddenly find themselves falling in love, Long turns the love scene into a mini-production

number, complete with music, a reflecting ball and four undulating mermaids, cleverly costumed by Monica Johnstone.

Long also flaunts his sense of humor in the surfing scenes that are interspersed with blackouts in which the performers re-position themselves in elaborate surfing poses.

"Psycho Beach Party" doesn't have as amusing a title as "Vampire Lesbians of Sodom" -- half of the Busch double bill Long staged here last season -- but it's a more tightly constructed script than either that or "Vampire's" companion piece, "Sleeping Beauty or Coma." And, while Long's able cast members are clearly enjoying themselves, they also play for keeps -- which makes the result even funnier. All in all, a dose of "Psycho Beach Party" is just the thing to wash away the winter blues.

'Psycho Beach Party'

Where: Spotlighters Theatre, 817 St. Paul St.

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Through March 10

Tickets: $10

Call: (410) 752-1225

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