I hate to go right to the symbolism part, but there's this 6-foot vagina hovering over the set of Psycho Beach Party, Theatre Downtown's latest entry in this sweaty-palms summer. Some people see it as just a surfboard, but we know better: This play is all about nookie — getting it, giving it and worrying about who else has any to spare.
In Charles Busch's script, Marvel Ann (Shannon Bilo) drags her geeky girlfriends Berdine (Jennifer Gannon) and Chicklet (Corey Stobb) to the sunny sand, hoping to snare some straight-guy action with her size-38 bait buckets. Chicklet is worried she'll never get a guy as she's flatter than Florida, and Berdine would rather date her diary and scrupulously avoids sexy clothes. Of course, that's what makes her hot — geeky chicks always bloom in these beach-blanket bouncers.
Two things motivate these idealized teens: sex and surfing. We all know enough about sex to realize that it makes bar fights and flower sales the successes they are, but surfing requires skill, special equipment and the Pacific Ocean. Chicklet wants lessons, and the best teacher on the sand is buff Kanaka (Daniel Cooksley). He's horny enough to screw sunscreen, and every woman on the sand is his love slave. What can A-cup Chicklet offer? Nothing — except multiple erotic personalities, including dominatrix Ann Bowman. We get a few lighting clues when Chicklet transforms, and Kanaka discovers what he's always wanted: a good spanking and someone to put him in his place. Chicklet has a few other personas (one of them a black checkout girl), but these lesser facets seem more interested in filling stage time than building the story. I'll give this to Kanaka — he's found the ultimate psycho soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend.
With nearly a dozen skin-cancer cadets bouncing around, the options for side romances are endless. Yo Yo (George Patages) and Provoloney (Stephen Pugh) discover a deeply lavender romance, which is funny if a bit awkward-feeling. The big news comes down the Red Car Line from downtown Hollywood. Overpaid and overdeveloped sex kitten Bettina Barnes (Katie Muise) washes up on shore and leads all the threesomes and foursomes (or whatever permutation of extras she can dredge up). I think her main squeeze is Starcat (Jared Slater), but fidelity is not as important as utility; the only person without a mate for a minute is Chicklet's uptight mom, Mrs. Forrest (Natalie Doliner).
I was never completely sure what anyone was up to on stage, but it was still about the most fun I've had in weeks. The audience seemed considerably more lit up than normal for a Theater Downtown crowd, and the silly humor, sexy bodies and throbbing yet unidentifiable surf music sent the message, "Who knows what just happened, but I want to go again!" (An older acquaintance caught me and pointed out that Chicklet was a guy, but that seems pretty normal these days, and explains her lack of cleavage.)
The symbolic value of the surfboard notwithstanding, the warmly glowing set benefited from bright colors and clever lighting. Rather than bring in truckloads of sand and spend the next six months sweeping, set designer Mario Magana gave us a brilliant yellow sand-colored floor with a seaside backdrop, complete with distinctive waves and a palm tree drooping like a Calais ad. Costumes were suitably skimpy, though I still find a man dressed in matching Hawaiian shirts and shorts a bit gay. Mrs. Forrest kept her crisp June Cleaver look, even as she trod the shifting sands of Malibu.
Overall, the young people did a great job of acting like young people on a beach, and even when Chicklet went into her less-motivated personalities, she remained likeable. Cooksley did the best job in his role as God of the Beach and part-time naughty submissive.
The whole beach-blanket theme has been done over and over, but still yields humor with a raw connection to our film-driven youth. It's true that no Eric Von Zipper arose to threaten our perfect little world, but this two-hour show isn't about whipping us into adulthood, but taking us back into the cocoon where sex was a distant but distinct promise, a bootlegged Pabst was the nectar of the gods and no one worried about shark bites or melanoma. If you have a grass skirt or want to wear a wetsuit in public, this is the place to do it. Go hang 10, Moondoggie.