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THEATER BEAT

Gidget Meets Hitchcock at 'Psycho Beach'

June 18, 1993|RICHARD STAYTON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Mate innocent Gidget with tormented Norman Bates? Outrageous! Sick!

That would have been the public response in the early 1960s when "Psycho" was never allowed to share drive-in screens with teen-age surfer flicks like "Beach Party." But for channel-surfing baby boomers, Charles Busch's marriage of the giddy Gidget with the grim Hitchcock makes hilarious sense. His New York cult hit "Psycho Beach Party" has finally migrated from the East Village to West Hollywood, where it's doing the limbo in the intimate St. Genesius Theatre.

Director Rick Sparks has subtly cast beefcake dudes and busty bikini-bunnies who resemble Frankie Avalon/Annette Funicello as well as Anthony Perkins/Joan Crawford. With names like Yo-Yo, Dee Dee and Kanaka, his exuberant players dive into Busch's camp riptide like teen-agers on the day school's out.

Cowabunga! It's a psychedelic luau! Forget "clean sex" and Hardy beach boys who never touch the surfer girls . . . or each other. Where the boys are is where the puberty rites begin. "Look what I found in the sand," boasts Marvel Anne (Earlene Davis), returning from a manhunt, "two hunks of California he-man!"

But even 1962 Malibu dudes have codes of behavior. Rule No. 1: "No stud digs a heavy come-on from a babe."

This is sad news to virginal Chicklet. Her first teen-age crush is for beach-bum Kanaka (Don Mirault). Chicklet's puberty is a bit perverted, however, since her eroticism is sublimated into a single consuming desire, "to shoot the curl . . . I'm just flaked out about riding the waves."

Neurosis comes to the rescue, thanks to a multiple personality disorder. Like Hitchcock's Marnie, Chicklet sees the color red and transforms into any one of several Sybils. Luckily, her first transformation is into a dominating bitch. Kanaka, his secret prayers answered, drops his board and bends over for her slave collar. No wonder Gidget grew up to be a flying nun.

Of course, in the schizophrenic world of "Psycho Beach Party," Chicklet is a man, a deliriously confused Harry Hart-Brown. (Playwright Busch played this role in the original Off-Broadway production.) Mrs. Forrest, Chicklet's consuming mother-from-hell, is brilliantly conceived by Suzanne Goddard as a Joan Crawford look-alike who walks and talks like Bette Davis.

Whatever happened to Baby Jane? She lost it at the beach. Lucky audiences should happily lose theirs, too, during "Psycho Beach Party."

*"Psycho Beach Party," St. Genesius Theatre, 1047 Havenhurst, West Hollywood. Fridays-Saturdays, 7:30 & 10 p.m., Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Ends June 27. $15. (213) 466-1767. Running time: 90 minutes.

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