The Department of Theatre and Dance presents an unholy union of classic beach party movies and slasher flicks. Charles Busch’s “Psycho Beach Party” opens at the Tohill Theatre this weekend.
Dr. Elisabeth Hostetter, the show’s director, wanted to put on the show for some time now, and finally got the opportunity last May.
“It’s a show I’ve always been thinking about doing. I became the chair of the department last May and I submitted the show to the Production Planning Committee and they thought it was a great choice,” Hostetter said of getting the show approved.
“Beach Party” satirizes 1960s beach party movies like “Gidget” while also drawing inspiration from horror and slasher movies. The play follows the story of Chicklet Forrest, who Hostetter describes as a “psycho surfer wannabe.”
Chicklet longs to be part of the Malibu surf scene, but has multiple personalities and sometimes assumes the identity of a check-out girl, an elderly radio talk show hostess, a male model named Steve and an employee of the accounting firm Edelman & Edelman. The real danger comes from her deadly alter ego Ann Bowman, a sexually charged woman with a taste for blood.
Though “Beach Party” plays with elements of horror, at its heart, it’s a comedy. Hostetter said the play is part of the “Camp Style Theater” tradition which focuses on parody and deals with issues of gender identity.
As with most plays in the “Camp” style, Chicklet is played by a male actor in drag, Dane Eissler, a senior theatre arts major. Despite having acted in drag before in roles like the musical version of “Some Like It Hot,” Eissler said preparing for the role of Chicklet was a whole new challenge. This included studying how women walk and talk while avoiding stereotypes, and went as far as to start shaving his legs and coming to rehearsals in makeup and a wig.
“The important thing about playing a woman is to not think about ‘playing a woman,’” Eissler said. “I am playing a character, Chicklet Forrest, and she just so happens to be a woman with her own likes and interests. That was a big lesson I’ve learned.”
Both Hostetter and Eissler expressed excitement about working on a show that had a major impact on the lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender/questioning community.
“This show is not only funny, but incredibly important as a stepping stone for LGBTQ culture,” Eissler said. “Busch wrote a beautiful play, inviting his merry gang of LGBTQ outsiders into the mainstream, and gave his community a chance to be accepted and welcome. That’s the thing that hits me about this show. It uses gay and cross-gender issues as a primary vehicle, but it really speaks to everyone who relates as an outsider and makes the audience feel welcome to laugh at that absurdity.”
At the time of its original release, America was facing the AIDS epidemic and rampant homophobia, and Hostetter thinks the fun the show provided was an escape from all of the chaos.
“It’s great to look at the beach, which is this amazing, nostalgic, symbolic place for youth and sexual exploration,” Hostetter said.
“Psycho Beach Party” will be performed at the Tohill Theatre Feb. 27 through March 1 at 8 p.m. with performances on March 1 at 3 p.m. and on March 2 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15 for general admission and $10 for seniors, non-Rowan students, alumni and staff. Rowan students are admitted for free with valid ID.
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