The Austin Chronicle

Arts Review

Reviewed by Barry Pineo, August 11, 2006, Arts

Psycho Beach Party

The Yard at the Vortex, through Aug. 13

Running Time: 2 hrs

While context, in a sense, is everything, if I told you that a production was trash, you might think that it was not worth seeing. But what if the script that served as the basis for the production was meant to be trashy? Was meant to be campy, kitschy, a send-up, albeit a loving one, of all things beach and all things Sixties and all things Hitchcockian? Was meant to be pure entertainment and to serve no higher purpose than to make you laugh at the silly, glorious formula of it all?

If any of that piques your interest, then prepare yourself for a truly psycho beach party. This Prairie Oyster Productions staging, at least for me, can be summed up by its beginning. On a set that ranges across a good part of the Yard at the Vortex and consists of a beach shack covered in palm fronds and tiki carvings and a stage smothered in fine grain sand and backed with large tie-dyed pieces of fabric, Andrew Kastning as Nicky, a well-built, sandy-haired young man dressed appropriately in beach attire, enters and sits beside an armless mermaid perched atop a lifeguard stand. Swinging his legs and looking totally at home, he asks us kindly to turn off our electronic devices, then exits, and the lights dim, and we hear a needle hit some vinyl. Surf music begins to play, then suddenly stops. Again, the needle hits the vinyl, the same music begins to play, and again it suddenly stops. This happens multiple times, then eventually the Twilight Zone theme begins to play, and three dancers enter and do a psycho kind of dance. Then, if memory serves, as the three dancers exit, one of the most famous pieces of surf music, the Surfaris' "Wipeout," begins to play, and the cast enters doing the swim, doing the hitcher, doing about every Sixties dance imaginable.

Now, at least some of the dancing was planned. Some of it could have been improvised. But I'm not certain if the false starts were planned. If they were, it was a brilliant way to start. If they weren't, it was a brilliant way to start. That's really kind of the point. Whatever happens – it's all cool, hepcat.

And the fact that all of the copious Sixties surf sound for the show, provided by director Nick Fagan, seems to have been engineered on two turntables with vintage vinyl is only one of the charms of the production. Some others: the three dancers who provide transitions between the scenes and reminded me of Laugh-In; Harlan Short's surf god Kanaka, all pecs and male flesh, with just the right amount of hair on his chest; Colleen Berger's nerdy Berdine, seriously slumping and decked out in pigtails and low-slung glasses; and Kathleen Fletcher's Chicklet, all perky, teenage energy tempered by seven or eight (or more) multiple personalities.

There are also multiple storylines centering on people being shaved from head to foot, two gay surfers coming out, and a movie star looking for a vehicle, but if I haven't already told you enough to encourage you to take a dip, then baby, you must just not want to swim.

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