SURF'S UP, but the ocean swells are nothing compared to the tsunami of camp in this tepid reworking of Gidget-style muscle beach movies of the early '60s. Adapted and slightly expanded from the 1987 Charles Busch stage show, Psycho Beach preserves its theatrical West Village spirit of boys-will-be-girls displacement while making a few concessions to a younger, hetero audience more familiar with Scream than Beach Blanket Bingo.
Ambrose and Busch on the beach.
PSYCHO BEACH PARTY
directed by Robert Lee King with Thomas Gibson, Lauren Ambrose, Matt Keeslar, and Charles Busch
runs September 1-7 at Egyptian
As homoerotic frolicking on the beach goes, Psycho Beach is harmless, hokey fun, with fewer but smarter gags than its source material. The plot is as skimpy as a bikini: Virginal Florence (Lauren Ambrose) longs to become a surfer chick, taking the nom de beach Chicklet to win over a genial all-male gang led by the rhyme-spouting hep cat Kanaka (Thomas Gibson of TV's Dharma & Greg). Naturally there's a budding love story between two closeted surfer dudes, a vacationing movie starlet, and a homicidal maniac on the loose.
As with every Busch production, however, it's the subtext that counts. Each line is sexually overdetermined, thanks to his writing (he also appears as a female cop investigating the murders). The term "double entendre" hardly seems sufficient here; it's more like triple or quadruple the usual ratio of campy insinuation. Busch makes his dim-witted characters conversant with pop Freudianism so they can cheerfully babble about repression and the phallic significance of hot dogs, lending further spin to his intentionally cheesy dialogue. Thus, while Chicklet suffers from "inner demons," she's oblivious to her Sybil-esque split personalities—the most prominent of which is a Crawford-style diva and dominatrix.
However, as the fitfully amusing Psycho Beach's gags become repetitive, its movie-bounded frame of reference grows tiresome. Unless you fondly remember the Frankie Avalon-Annette Funicello sand flicks, or are a Man of a Certain Age who thinks drag acts represent high comedy, Psycho Beach begins to look pale in comparison to its inspirations.