'Psycho Beach Party'

Dueling Chicklets

If Charles Ludlam is American theatre's king of camp and kitsch, then Charles Busch is its queen. From the Sixties through the Eighties, most famously with his play The Mystery of Irma Vep, Ludlam popularized the theatrical form that drew on old movies, pop culture, cross-dressing, and the kinky thrill inherent in the practice of (gasp!) forbidden homosexuality. Busch came along in 1984, mining the same vein with his Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, which became one of the longest-running plays in off-Broadway history, and the similarly popular Psycho Beach Party, a pastiche of beach movies, psychological thrillers, cross-dressing, and (gasp!) forbidden homosexuality. Coming soon to theatres near you will be two productions of the latter show – yes, two, but despite having the same title, they'll be surprisingly different.

The first, opening this week, comes from a new company, Prairie Oyster Productions. "It's been a dream all my life to have a production company, and it's been my dad's dream to direct Psycho Beach Party," says Emily Fagan, POP's artistic director, who grew up on community theatre in Victoria, Texas, and has made Austin her home since 2004. "He saw a production in a little theatre in Las Vegas and fell in love with it. Then he saw it again a couple of times in Corpus Christi, and he kept thinking, 'I've got to do this show.' For two years he's been collecting everything possible from 1962, from costumes to props to set-pieces. He's been kind of addicted to it, and I thought I had to go ahead and get this going, for me and for him. So we did, and that was kind of my Father's Day gift to him this year." They're going for a real beach feel by staging it outside at the Vortex, with sand, grilled hot dogs, beer, and a live band opening night. For seating, you're advised to BYOBeach towel.

Established company Naughty Austin will throw quite a different Party in September. Around the turn of the millennium, Busch was asked to transform the play into a film. In the original stage production, he had starred as Chicklet, the Gidget-like lead character, but feeling he'd grown too old to pass as a teenage girl on film, Busch morphed the psychological thriller plot into a slasher horror story and wrote himself a new role: LAPD Detective Monica Stark. He also played up the (gasp!) forbidden homosexual themes by including a tremendous amount of surfing, an oil-wrestling match, and a lot of naked male ass. He later turned the screenplay back into a play, and that's the version Naughty Austin will mount. "It's so totally not what we do," says artistic director Blake Yelavich. "Drag queens, naked porn-star boys, and people running around in their underwear."

Two versions of a camp classic. One outdoors, one indoors. One with a thriller plot, one with a slasher plot. One heavy on the nostalgia, one heavy on the beefcake. Try one; try both. Go psycho.

Psycho Beach Party Consumer Guide

Company: Prairie Oyster Productions

Venue: The Yard at the Vortex, 2307 Manor

Dates: Aug. 4-13, Thursday-Sunday, dusk

In/Out: Outdoors

Script Version: Original 1987 stage play

Bonus attractions: Sand, beach shack, lifeguard stand, grilled hot dogs, cold beer, and on opening night, the band 3 Balls of Fire will play before the show and during intermission

Information: 478-LAVA or www.vortexrep.org

Company: Naughty Austin

Venue: Arts on Real, 2826 Real

Dates: Sept. 21-Oct. 29, Thursday-Saturday, 8pm

In/Out: Indoors

Script Version: Revised, post-film version

Bonus attractions: Surfing, oil-wrestling match, and a lot of naked male ass

Information: 472-ARTS or www.artsonreal.com

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Psycho Beach Party, Charles Ludlam, Charles Busch, Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, Prairie Oyster Productions, Emily Fagan, Naughty Austin, Blake Yelavich

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