Capri Scarcelli | a&e editor
Oct. 7, 2021
It’s campy, it’s ‘psycho’ and it’s certainly a party at Duquesne University’s Genesisus Theater! Hopping on the surfboard Thursday, Oct. 7, the Red Masquers’ debut their first main stage production since the pandemic: the slapstick, in-your-face Psycho Beach Party.
Written and directed by Charles Busch in 1988 and made into a movie adaptation in 2000, the play pokes fun at 60s teen beach movies, rom-coms and psychothrillers all in one catastrophic wave of chaos that has you drowning in laughter.
Taking a stroll through the storyline, 16-year-old Chicklet wants more than anything to fit in with the surfer crew. As romances are budding around her, she grows quite jealous of her flirtatious friends — after all, it’s hard to be taken seriously when you’re known as the goody-two-shoes of Malibu Beach.
However, things are getting fishy, and not just in the ocean. The surfer boys, Kanaka, Starcat, Provoloney and Yo-Yo have noticed suspicious behavior from Chicklet, as if she’s flipped a switch. Her most loyal best friend, Bettina, even feels as though she is slipping away from her true, sweetly innocent self.
I felt as though this show was layered and layered with dramatic irony for almost no reason, which made it all the more hilarious. Each scene seemed to spiral into an even deeper level of mayhem, with the ending kind of leaving you in a sort of accepted delusion.
You don’t know which way to turn, what is right and wrong, or even who the characters truly are. The dimensions of the characters seem to go from 2-D to 4-D quite quickly, becoming more wackily complex with each character interaction. They are over-the-top, and you certainly won’t miss a beat.
The script itself was quick-witted and filled with innuendos — you almost catch yourself laughing before you realize you’re laughing. And I felt guilty laughing, too, because the lines are somewhat shocking in a “did you hear that?” kind of way.
Along with this, the blocking was painfully awkward in the best of ways, making you feel like you’re a fly on the wall where you shouldn’t be, giving a sort of transparency to it that adds to the cartoon-y feel of the show.
And get this — as an audience member, you become directly involved in the craziness! In somewhat Teen Beach Movie or Rocky Horror Picture Show fashion, you get to dance around and become a part of the show, too. I had my fun going on stage and didn’t know what to expect, but as a gentle nudge: make sure to look out for the luau!
This show is set up in “three-quarter fashion,” according to adjunct executive director Jill Jeffrey. Thus, with an 11-person cast, managing rehearsal schedules and space on stage was more than doable.
“The read-through definitely made people feel more reassured and excited about it, it made us all think: There’s nothing too big you can’t try,” Jeffrey said. “It’s super goofy, the audience is given various props during the show, and there are moments where audience members can come down to the stage and participate too. We hope that people find that exciting to be immersed into the theme of the show along with us.”
Susie Betten, a sophomore English Education major, plays the leading ‘Chicklet’ in the comedy. Working up to the silliness of the show, Betten tried to emulate the “psycho” energy of it each and every rehearsal, leading up to their opening night.
“It has been awesome, I can tell you that! This is the first lead role I’ve had ever in my 10 years of theater. I love the show: it’s so weird, it’s so goofy, I love all of the people I’m working with, and it’s just been so fun. It’s exactly what I’ve always wanted in a show,” Betten said.
Betten, aside from leading the show into chaos, had her first experiences with costuming a show. Getting inspiration from Southside thrift stores, vintage shops and costume sales, she was able to find outfits that fit the time period of the show, as well as the characters who wore them.
“Every time I’ve done theater, no matter what character I play or what show I’m in, I put on that costume and I think ‘this is it.’ And it was even more exciting than opening night to me,” Betten said.
Freshman nursing major Sadie Raynor, who plays Bettina, said that her character is “so funny and ditzy, but also a genius.”
“When I walk in the dressing room and we have our music playing, it helps so much to get into ‘Bettina Mode’” Raynor said. “It snaps me into character, and I can just let loose and yell and laugh on stage.”
“What’s funny about this show is that it has this front of being a PG-rated kind of show, but it’s actually quite scandalous and it catches you off guard,” Betten said. “But trust me, this is the funniest show I’ve acted in ever.”
Stage manager Heather Due, a senior Theater Arts and Theology major, said that the technical aspects of the show are dependent on comedic timing — which means cues often come down to the exact second.
“This show is a whole lot of everything. It’s very adult-natured, but also teenage-like in script-writing, like a 12-year-old boy would have a field day with writing it,” Due said. “There are dance numbers, a disco ball, a character with multiple personalities and they’re all teenagers on the beach — there’s no big lesson from this show, but we hope you leave knowing you had a good time.”
Senior Theater Arts and English major Travis Barkefelt, President of the Red Masquers, reflected on his time with the theater troupe, saying that this will probably be his last main stage show, and he’s “gotta make this one count.”
“Yo-Yo is a very cool, down-to-earth character. I usually find myself gravitating toward more wacky characters, so it’s somewhat easier for me getting into that chaotic mode for the show,” Barkefelt said. “There’s interjections, props and ‘movie-theater-vibes,’ so make sure to look out for that if you want to be a part of the fun.”
Similarly, senior vocal performance major Michael Kirk describes his character as “fun, crazy, weird, stupid and the ‘older brother’ of the group.”
“Kanaka is very willing to fulfill a blind leadership position amongst the guys because he provides a certain key level of ‘dumb’ for this type of show,” Kirk said. “Whether or not they’re ready, the audience will participate, and they will laugh like crazy.”
Audiences should expect to be shocked, yet thoroughly entertained with the insane, ever-growing accelerando that is Psycho Beach Party. The show will be running Thursdays to Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., with a midnight showing on Saturday, Oct. 9. Tickets are free for Duquesne students, $10 for visiting students and $20 for adults.
“I hope a lot of people come out: this is an experience that people will regret not going to,” Jeffrey said.