Psycho Beach PartyBen Balkwill

Korda Artistic Productions Psycho Beach Party opens tonght, February 16, 2024.

Nearly 37 years after its smash debut at The Players Theatre in New York City and 19 years since its Windsor premiere in 2005, Charles Busch’s camp classic “Psycho Beach Party” returns to the Kordazone Theatre stage for a three-week run February 16 to March 2. The play blends elements from disparate genres—beach movies, psychological thrillers, slasher films—into a hilarious satire of early ‘60s pop culture.

“The play depends very much on understanding the style of those ‘60s surf pics and psychodramas,” says director Jeff Marontate. “I rewatched some of the higher camp films from this period: Gidget, Beach Blanket Bingo, even Valley of the Dolls, and sent the cast links to do the same. Much of the play’s humour comes from the clash of those styles: the innocence of the beach teenager pics and the overwrought melodrama of those psychological thrillers.”

The plot centers on Chicklet Forrest, an enthusiastic but untalented surfer girl who begins exhibiting multiple personalities. As Marontate describes, “Chicklet’s transformations required our actor Marne Gare to really lose any inhibitions, which she did pretty easily. At the audition, she showed me that she had the ability to take that onstage risk, and her performance has just gotten funnier and wilder.” Gare, familiar to Korda audiences from last season’s hit Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche, lets loose in the role. “Anyone who saw Marnie in Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche,” says Marontate, “will know that Marnie can let lose and let a character’s outrageousness shine through.”

The original title, “Gidget Goes Psychotic,” was a joke referencing the popular Gidget franchise. Though changed for legal reasons, it encapsulates the play’s blending of sunny beach settings with psychological drama. “The title is perfect for those who remember Gidget Goes Hawaiian and Gidget Goes to Rome,” Marontate says, “but the new title doesn’t depend on any previous knowledge of those Gidget movies.”

Psycho Beach Party originally premiered in 1987 before becoming a cult film in 2000. Charles Busch, known for drag performances, played the lead role of Chicklet Forrest in the original production. For this remount, Marontate decided to make Chicklet’s mother the drag role instead. “These drag parts allow a send-up of style and a send-up of gender performances from those old Hollywood movies,” he explains.

The play revels in spoofing early ‘60s beach culture. From the music to the costumes, Marontate strives to recreate the era’s ambiance within the Korda’s intimate space. “In our 2004 production, our set design was influenced by an artist named Shag who himself parodies ‘60s imagery in his work; this time we took our influence from Warner Brothers cartoons.”

While much of the humor stems from exaggerated sexuality, Marontate is careful to keep it light-hearted.

“The sexuality of the play is played mainly for laughs and shock value, Marontate notes. “It’s not lurid or prurient, but it’s also not to be taken too seriously. By using some really course language, it parodies those old beach movies in which the teens kind of discover a sanitary kind of sexual expression, this time allowing the teens to be more libidinous and less wholesome.”

One of Chicklet’s alter egos, the voracious Ann Bowman, represents an extreme version of female empowerment. As Marontate analyzes, “Ann Bowman represents the freedom caved by so many women pre–Women’s Lib – she’s a sexually charged woman in total control of the men around her; but she also is a madwoman intent on world domination and public executions. Her chief adversary is another of Chicklet’s personalities, a Safeway check-out clerk named Tylene; the pair of them are confronted by a third female personality, Dr Rose Mayer. These three, along with the very different female characters of the play, explore feminine sexuality, ambition, empowerment, romance, devotion, and many more characteristics.”

Korda Artistic Productions has a long history with playwright Charles Busch, having produced six of his works over the past two decades. “We love Busch because he gives the audience so much to enjoy on a seemingly simple level: the plays parody old Hollywood, but they use humour to explore themes of family, friendship and loyalty while having a great laugh doing so,” says Marontate.

He explains that the comedy fits nicely into Windsor’s vibrant arts scene. “Windsor has so many theatre companies, and they all have their specialties: one of ours at Korda was inclusion of queerness,” he adds. “The play is not just for a gay audience, but it includes gay and lesbian characters along with the straight ones.”

Indeed, the play features significant cross-gender casting and drag performances. “The sound is rhythmic, sexy, a little dangerous I think, and fits the play perfectly,” explains Marontate.

He also notes the biggest challenge was making the cult classic accessible to a modern audience. “The biggest challenge for any theatre company is putting butts-in-seats: we hope that folks who saw Rocky Horror, which was our best-selling show ever, will come back for more playful sexiness in this show,” he remarked.

At the same time, Marontate aims to preserve the tone of the original. “The tone should be nostalgic and suspenseful but always through Busch’s filter of naughty silliness,” he says.

To that end, the production retains much of the adult humor and strong language of the original script. “There is a fair amount of course language in the play, and that shock value is where so much of the humour lies: squeaky-clean teens (none played by teens by the way) uttering some really raunchy stuff,” reveals Marontate, adding that Korda audiences are quite accustomed to mature themes.

Ultimately, Marontate hopes Psycho Beach Party will help Windsorites shake the winter blues:

“More than anything I hope the audience has a good laugh and a fun time. Winter blahs can be really awful, so we are trying to bring some sun & sand & sexiness into these dreary days.”

If the cast and crew are any indication, the show looks poised to deliver exactly that. So, grab your beach towels and surf boards – it’s time for some psycho fun in the Windsor sun! Psycho Beach Party runs from February 16 through March 2 at Korda Artistic Productions. Don’t miss the laughs, tunes, and summer vibes. Hang Ten!


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