A rain poncho won’t be necessary to see Spokane Civic Theatre’s production of “Psycho Beach Party,” but audience members might want to bring a pair of sunglasses when they walk into the Firth J. Chew Studio Theatre, as the California sun will be shining bright.
Set on Malibu Beach in 1962, “Psycho Beach Party” is a satirical mash up of “Gidget,” the beach party films starring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, and Alfred Hitchcock.
One of these things is definitely not like the others.
The play follows Chicklet Forrest (Rushele Herrmann), who wants more than anything to be part of the surf crowd, a goal complicated by her multiple personalities. Out of the half-dozen personalities Chicklet portrays, the most prominent is a vixen named Ann Bowman.
The play also stars Jacob Carruthers (Yo-Yo), Jade Kincaid (DeeDee), Nathan Miller (Nicky), Sid Al-Thumali (Provoloney), Dennis Julian Burgess (Star Cat), Jack Fogarty (Kanka), Grayson Davey (Berdine), Angel Cimball (Marvel Ann), Jason Johnson (Mrs. Forrest) and Sarah Plumb (Bettina Barnes).
“Psycho Beach Party” opens, as the Halloween spirits would have it, on Friday the 13th.
Over the years, the fall production in the studio has become known as the Halloween show. Two years ago, Spokane Civic Theatre produced “Evil Dead: The Musical.” Last year, the theater put on “The Rocky Horror Show.”
For this season’s spooky production, director Jerry Sciarrio was excited for the chance to work in the beach party style he grew up with.
“Having the opportunity to do this play, which is both a satire and an homage to that style, to those movies, it was very hard to say no,” he said. “It came right at a time when I was looking to direct.”
When casting “Psycho Beach Party,” the second Civic show he’s directed, Sciarrio was looking for specific types, as the characters in the play are stereotyped characters of the beach party films.
“There’s the best friend of the heroine, the nerdy gal,” he said. “There’s the hunky, beach surfer guy. There’s a Hollywood movie starlet in very much the Marilyn Monroe/Mamie Van Doren tradition, so very definite types to fill.”
When it came to the role of Chicklet, Sciarrio was looking for someone with comedic timing and the ability to believably portray multiple characters.
“Psycho Beach Party” playwright Charles Busch wrote the role of Chicklet for himself, but he noted in the script that it wasn’t a requirement for a man to play the lead role.
“I graciously grabbed onto that,” Sciarrio said. “Knowing our theater community in Spokane, if I gave a role like this, a role which for women doesn’t come along very often, a role of this scope and challenge, if I gave it to a guy, I probably wouldn’t be speaking to you right now.”
He found his Chicklet in Herrmann, who he said does a marvelous job of embodying each personality, both vocally and physically.
Likewise, Sciarrio wanted to bring Malibu Beach to the studio theater as much as he could, short of moving the production to California.
He credits scenic and lighting designer David Baker for creating the illusion via a boardwalk leading down to the beach and the aforementioned California sunshine that will greet audience members.
“I had tried to convince him to use actual sand, but he really wouldn’t go along with that,” Sciarrio said. “Little rough on the clean up.”
Those who have seen the Halloween show in previous years, especially “Evil Dead: The Musical,” might be expecting a splash zone. As previously mentioned, there’s no need for a poncho, although Sciarrio said audience members can expect to feel “ocean mist.”
Little elements like the ocean mist add even more to the over-the-top “Psycho Beach Party.”
In his experience both onstage and behind the scenes, Sciarrio has learned that theater, especially comedic productions like this one, provide audiences an escape from the everyday.
“When you can spend an hour and a half laughing, you just feel better overall, physically, mentally, psychologically…,” he said. “I will always and forever say ‘A good laugh can cure many ailments,’ That’s what we’re aiming for this show. We want people to have a good time.”
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