Now we know: Psycho Beach Party, the (usually) gender-bending comedy, can be staged without a single cross-cast role. But when a production like the current run at Theatre in the Park does that to the work of Charles Busch, the celebrated cross-dressing actor and playwright of Vampire Lesbians of Sodom and The Lady in Question, it tends to erase an entire level of inquiry and critique involving classic sex-role representations in popular culture.
Besides, let's face it, it's nowhere nearly as much fun. In the original production of this loony beach movie/slasher flick combo, Busch played the central role of Chicklet, a spunky surfer girl wannabe who's sporting a few more split personalities than the average high-school geek, and another man played her street- and surf-wise companion, Marvel Ann. Since then, a number of iterations have made Chicklet's mom, Mrs. Forrest, a killer-queen tribute to what's labeled as the Joan Crawford character in the script, with rewarding results.
But the relative restraint with which Ira David Wood IV directs Sandi Sullivan in the role here not only cheats its comic potential, it fails to connect all of the dots concerning how Chicklet got so psychologically screwed up in the first place. In that role, the only way out is over the top.
After the eye-catching beach dance choreography of Jade Carlisle (and the solo aerial dance pole moves of Amanda Longo), individual performances repeatedly seemed smaller than the TIP stage on Saturday night. Exceptions included Preston Campbell's turn as self-styled surfing guru Kanaka, Lorelei Mellon's take on Chicklet's best friend (and budding existentialist) Berdine, and Dale Sander's rewarding cameo as '60s singer Chubby Checker on a bender. While Kelly McConkey convinced us as Chicklet, she wasn't as persuasive under Wood's direction when she took on the role of her monstrous alter ego, mankiller Ann Bowman.
The result leaves Psycho Beach Party an underinflated beach ball: a colorful bauble, but one that tends to plop where it's supposed to bounce.