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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Theater review: ‘Psycho Beach Party’ mixes genres for campy fun

Rushele Herrmann and Grayson Davey are in the cast of “Psycho Beach Party" being staged at the Firth J. Chew Studio Theater at the Civic in Spokane. The show opens Friday, Oct. 13, 2017. Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

If you’ve watched any of the numerous beach party movies from the ’60s, you’ve seen these characters before.

The gawky girl and her nerdy best friend, the too-cool-for-school surfer, the concerned mother.

But you haven’t seen those characters like they’re presented in Spokane Civic Theatre’s “Psycho Beach Party.”

The gawky girl who turns into a voracious vixen at the drop of a hat, the nerdy girl who references the likes of Nathan Hale and the Lafayette Escadrille in her diary entries, the too-cool-for-school surfer who is submissive to powerful women, and the concerned mother who turns into a threat in a snap.

“Psycho Beach Party” takes what was so popular about the beach party movies and turns it on its head, adding elements of a murder mystery a la Alfred Hitchcock.

In doing so, the Jerry Sciarrio-directed play, written by Charles Bosch, adds adult humor to Halloween.

Scenic and lighting designer David Baker gets a lot of credit for setting the beachy scene as soon as audience members step into the Firth J. Chew Studio Theatre.

A beautifully constructed boardwalk leads to the sandy beach and a backdrop of both waves and sky.

And the “ocean mist” during the surfing scene was a great touch.

Rushele Herrmann is fantastic as Chicklet Forrest, who has multiple personality disorder. Though Chicklet is, for the most part, a gawky teen who wants to hang with the surfers, she is also Ann Bowman, the vixen, Tylene, a brassy grocery store cashier, a young girl, a man named Steve, the law firm of Edelman and Edelman, and more.

Herrmann changes both her vocal and physical characteristics to match each personality, and the scene in the second act in which her personalities converse with each other is impressive due to her ability to quickly change from one to another.

Grayson Davey is hilarious as Berdine, Chicklet’s best friend, whose diary entries sound more like philosophy texts at times, and Jason Johnson, known around town as Nova Kaine, a fixture of Spokane’s drag community, perfectly balances Mrs. Forrest’s housewife appearance, including heels and pearls, with Joan Crawford’s “Mommie Dearest” temper.

Balancing out Chicklet and Berdine’s inexperience is the boy-crazy Marvel Ann (a great performance by Angel Cimball) and Bettina Barnes, an actress who ran away from the set of her latest movie.

Sarah Plumb plays Barnes’s space cadet quality well.

Case in point:

Chicklet: “Are you incognito?”

Barnes: “No, I’m German/Irish.”

Sid Al-Thumali, as Provoloney, and Jacob Carruthers, as Yo-Yo, make a fun pair, and Jack Fogarty and Dennis Julian Burgess are great as the beach-or-bust surf bums Kanaka and Star Cat.

The scene in which Burgess “sings” to Herrmann is particularly fun to watch.

In keeping with the summertime fun of the beach party movies, “Psycho Beach Party” is full of cheesy quips and things being declared “the ultimate.”

In keeping with Alfred Hitchcock, there’s a murderer on the loose terrorizing beachgoers.

Mixing the two together could have been like mixing oil and water, but under Sciarrio’s direction and with a talented cast and a strong script from Bosch, Spokane Civic Theatre makes the blend work.

“Psycho Beach Party” is campy through and through, but it’s obvious this satire comes from a place of love, not contempt, for the beach party genre.