By Greggory Mooore, Curtain Call Columnist
I don’t know why, but in the mid ‘60s the beach-party movie was a thing. These were intentionally cartoonish bits of cinema, slapstick on speed with surf and a sandy SoCal setting. The fad lasted less than a decade, and unless you’re conducting research for a Jeopardy! category, you can safely skip the whole genre without staining your film-buff cred.
This is, of course, just one man’s opinion, one man who doesn’t have a taste for the purely lowbrow and ludicrous. I can go for silly (major South Park fan here), but I need it to be part of a higher or at least broader aesthetic. If silly is the raison d’être ― or worse, if that’s all there is ― I’m outie.
Charles Busch’s Psycho Beach Party is nothing ― and I mean nothing ― but silly, and the Garage Theatre go for broke bringing it to life. Hyperactivity. Funny faces. Silly voices at max volume. That’s enough for some … but not for me.
Typically, this is where I’d provide a brief plot outline; but with Psycho Beach Party there isn’t much point. We’ve got a nerdy Malibu teen with multiple personality disorder, and a couple of surf buds who finally stop surpressing their homoerotic tendencies, and a starlet trying to hide away from the world and find her next project ― and none of it makes the slightest difference to whether you’re entertained. It’s all just an excuse for silliness.
The problem― for me (I’ll come to the audience reaction in a sec) ― is that there isn’t a single laugh on the page. Not one. I suspect Busch thinks he’s satirizing the beach-party genre, but recognizing its silliness and observing its conventions is not satire. Psycho Beach Party is just a joke on top of a joke, like mixing Pixie Stix with powdered sugar and calling it dessert. But it’s all a matter of taste, right?
What to say about any performance of such a script? It seems director Jeff Paul’s main instruction to his cast is: When it doubt, say the line louder, screw up your face even more tightly, gyrate more absurdly, etc. It’s probably as good as any he could give for this material, because I don’t know what else you do with it. If you’re going to do it at all ― which, obviously, is a choice that eludes me.
But perhaps that’s the real point of this review: Psycho Beach Party eludes me. Because presumably the Garage Theatre, who’ve been in business for 20 years now, have chosen this script because they know their audience. And truth be told, the majority on this night were cackling consistently from start to finish. Some of this might be explained by the fact that opening – night crowds tend to be full of family and friends tickled simply by seeing their loved ones onstage. Mostly, though, I think it comes down to taste. From uncomfortably sitting stone-faced through nights of stand-up and improv while my fellow patrons ate it up as if they were watching a completely different show, I know too well how pleasing some find the flavor of low-hanging fruit.
I think that’s the reference point for reading this review. If you’re charmed by the improv comedy aesthetic ⎯ the style, the delivery, the disposable silliness ― then maybe give Psycho Beach Party a try. If not, you best skip this one.
Psycho Beach Party at the Garage Theatre
Times: Thursday–Saturday 8:00 p.m.
The show runs through April 11
Cost: $18–$25 (Thursdays 2-for-1)
Venue: The Garage Theatre, 251 E. 7th St., Long Beach