“Psycho Beach Party” a totally rad performance despite minor flaws

Chicklet's multiple personalities wreak havoc on Malibu Beach. Photo courtesy Off the Wall Theatre

What happens when “everybody’s gone surfing” turns into “everybody’s gone psycho?” It’s called “Psycho Beach Party,” the last show of Off the Wall Theatre’s 2009-2010 season, and you’re invited.

Written by Charles Busch and directed by Jeremy Welter, the play crosses psychological thrillers like Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” with beach party films, a genre made popular in the ’60s. Examples include “Gidget,” in which a tomboy (Sandra Dee) falls desperately in love with a surfer boy and California surf culture.

In “Psycho Beach Party,” Gidget is replaced by Chicklet, a spunky, flat-chested 16-year-old itching to hit some gnarly swells with the surf bums on Malibu Beach in 1962. There’s only one thing in the way of Chicklet’s dreams: a pesky multiple personality complex.

Her colorful array of personas includes a perpetually angry checkout girl, a male model, an elderly radio talk show hostess and the accounting firm of Edelman and Edelman. However, her most dangerous alter ego is Ann Bowman, a sexually ravenous she-devil with world domination on her mind.

It sounds like a comedy waiting to happen — and it is — but behind the wacky, candid humor of “Psycho Beach Party,” Busch hides his wake-up call of a lesson: Not all surfers have to be straight, not all women need men and not all girls dream to be housewives.

As Chicklet, Liz Mistele captures each distinct personality with a vigorous and varying animation that makes them entirely her own. She represents any girl who has gone berserk trying to prove herself in a world that won’t acknowledge what women really want.

Further driving Busch’s lesson home was the presence of local drag queen Dear Ruthie (Mark Hagen) in the role of Chicklet’s mother, a spoof of Joan Crawford that had the full house of 51 in stitches.

It was an achievement matched by Kurtis Witzlsteiner, appearing in drag as Chicklet’s nerdy, lanky, philosophy-reading BFF Berdine. Throughout the performance, Mistele and Witzlsteiner hilariously present what would be the typical relationship between two teenage girls — albeit one with a dash of split personality added into the mix.

Yet with the exception of the surfer boys’ costumes (consisting only of short shorts), the rest of the cast was forgettable. Delivery felt awkward at times, especially when the cast tried tying loose ends together in the second act. Additionally, technical problems involving the set and acoustics gave the production a ragged vibe.

Still, as a whole, “Psycho Beach Party” offers exactly what it promises: a laid-back day at the beach with friends and a twist of psychology, sex and cross-dressing. It’s hardly the most put-together or ambitious play you’ll ever see, but it will definitely make you laugh — and forever change the way you hear the Beach Boys.

“Psycho Beach Party” continues through Sept. 12 at Off the Wall Theatre, 127 E. Wells St. For tickets, call (414) 327-3552 or go online at www.offthewalltheatre.com.