Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

Psycho Beach Party
Stray Dog Theatre

Paul Edwards, Jake Ferree, Ben Watts, Zach Wachter, and (foreground) Paul S. Cooper
Forget Mardi Gras and three-day holiday weekends—the best way to escape the gray days of winter is a visit to the beach with Charles Busch's surf-crazy 15-year-old girl Chicklet—played to perfection by Ben Watts.

But, thanks to clever playwright Busch and relentless director Justin Been, there's more at work than sun and sea and camp: there's also the strange, delirious joy of desire, and dizzy, sexual repression running in high gear in the invisible space conjured between actors and audience. It almost makes you pine for the 1960s all over again.

Mr. Been also designed the highly evocative sound, and the set, too—which practically reeks of salt water and bonfires; and everyone has great Hawaiian shirts and '60s style shorts and girlish swimwear, courtesy of Alexandra Scibetta Quigley. The energetic air of innocence is on full display, lightly overlaid with Mr. Busch's own lightly biting sensibility. The combination is strangely brilliant, making it more than a simpering comedy.

The homage, of course, is to all those Beach Blanket Bingo movies, with Annette Funicello or Sandra Dee, except here the part is played by a young man—and Mr. Watts is simply amazing—especially when the "Sybil" elements start coming out, with Chicklet's multiple personalities—which can only be interpreted by her summertime boyfriend (the carefree but intelligent Zach Wachter) later on.

Stephen Peirick is Chicklet's mom, a towering figure with a frilly apron, a chilled martini, and a warehouse full of dark secrets. And though (as Mrs. Forrest) he never actually ties Chicklet to a piano leg and plays Beethoven, there's still plenty of high, campy drama to be mined from their relationship. But the characters are so delightfully strange that their pathos, and a even faintly piercing sense of horror, somehow rings tiny, giddy bells of tortured sympathy. And playwright Busch carries us along, with an unyielding comic spirit, all the way through.

Paul S. Cooper is the king of the waves, and Sarajane Alverson the Hollywood starlet who's fled the studio and her contract to become a serious actress. But it's Anna Skidis (as Chicklet's "LaRue" type gal-pal), Suzanne Burke (as a blond vamp), and Jake Ferree and Paul Edwards as unwitting gay lovers who capture that unbearable tension of sex and innocence (well, okay, Ms. Burke's "Marvel Ann" isn't really innocent at all). Every one of them is suffused with some kind of personal mystery and their own madcap desire, though outwardly unaware. It's a comedy that gleefully sunbathes on a beach somewhere between the rocks of melodrama and the salty waves of satire.

Through February 23, 2013, at the Tower Grove Abbey, 2338 Tennessee Ave, about three blocks east of Grand, and a mile south of I-44. For more information visit them at

Chicklet Forrest: Ben Watts
Kanaka: Paul S. Cooper
Star Cat: Zach Wachter
Provoloney: Jake Ferree
Yo-Yo: Paul Edwards
Berdine: Anna Skidis
Marvel Ann: Suzanne Burke
Mrs. Forrest: Stephen Peirick
Bettina Barnes: Sarajane Alverson

Director: Justin Been
Assistant Director: Ryan Foizey
Costume Designer: Alexandra Scibetta Quigley
Lighting Designer: Tyler Duenow
Set & Sound Designer: Justin Been
Production Manager: Jay V. Hall
Artistic Director: Gary F. Bell

Photo: John Lamb

-- Richard T. Green

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