Stage review: ‘Psycho Beach Party’


It is a testament to the complete saturation of absurdism in a Charles Busch play that literally any female character can effortlessly be turned into a man in drag. In the original off-Broadway version of Psycho Beach Party, Busch himself played the ingenue teen; in the film, he created a new role for himself as a female detective; and in the latest incarnation — at Theatre 3 until July 10 — Coy Covington dons a dress to play the ingenue’s mother, the kooky over-protective Mrs. Forrest. The lesson? Men in petticoats = comedy gold.

As its name suggest, Psycho Beach Party is a spoof of the dumb coastal comedies of the 1960s like Where the Boys Are and Beach Blanket Bingo — inane, predictable, empty-calorie bites of eye candy. But Busch’s construct is more subversive: He combines that quintessential ’60s film genre with two others (Grand Guignol melodramas and lurid slasher films), throws in a substantial dose of homoeroticism and a Marilyn Monroe wannabe (Grace Neeley, stealing her scenes), and voila! A pastiche punch that exemplifies camp.

The secret weapon of PBP is that it cannot be over-played, as Covington proves in his over-the-top scenes. He twirls and mugs and winks like Bette Davis taking a bong hit from Joan Crawford’s LSD-laced cremains. And Jenna Anderson as the flat-chested teen with more psychotic personalities than Sybil plays the ugly duckling loser with as much gusto as the crazy alter egos. And you really can’t under-estimate the appeal of a quartet of bikini-clad musclemen (Jacob Lewis, Blake Lee, Heath Billups, Zach Valdez) shaking their moneymakers with a seductive innocence that raises the temperature in the theater.

Director Bruce R. Coleman doesn’t hold back, tossing in every kitschy music cue and outrageous dance move he can, though the pacing flails wildly from madcap to stagnant. Then again, so did those beach movies. …

Arnold Wayne Jones

Theatre 3, 2900 Routh St. Through July 10.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 1, 2016.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

‘The Charles Busch of Dallas’

Actor Coy Covington dons wig and heels for his 10th outing as a female character in a Charles Busch play


Tammye Nash  |  Managing Editor

Aas Coy Covington what he thinks of being called “the Charles Busch of Dallas,” and he’ll tell you, that’s high praise indeed.

“It’s a thrill and an honor. They can tag me with that all they want,” Covington declared. “Truly, it is a huge honor, and just a hoot. I enjoy doing his work so much. I am grateful to be acknowledged for it, and grateful that [Busch] is so generous with his work.”

Screen shot 2016-06-23 at 3.52.03 PMTheatre Three opens its 2016-17 season, beginning this weekend, with one of Busch’s campy classics, Psycho Beach Party, described as an “hilarious and outrageous mash-up of Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello and The Three Faces of Eve.”

It is the 10th time Covington has donned wigs and heels for a roll in a Busch play. But it is the first time, he said, that he has had the chance to debut a new version of one of the playwright’s works.

“Charles and I, over the years, have gotten to be friends,” Covington said this week. “We’re not ‘buddies,’ but we have gotten to be friends. He’s just a fabulous person really, and he’s always been very supportive of and generous to me.

“I tease him often — although I’m not really teasing — telling him that even though he’s having so much success right with his cabaret show [which he brought to Dallas’ Wyly Theater last October], he needs to keep writing more plays because I need more roles!”

And while Beach Party is not a new play, really, this is a new version of it, thanks at least in part to Covington’s participation.

“When he found out I was doing this play this summer at Theatre Three, he contacted me [and T3’s acting artistic director, Bruce Coleman] and said, ‘Would you guys be willing to use this new version of the play?’” Covington explained. “Of course we said yes. We jumped at the chance. So the audiences in Dallas will be the first ones to ever see this version of it.”

In Psycho Beach Party, Covington plays Mrs. Forrest, mother of the show’s main protagonist, Chicklet Forrest, a teenage girl who desperately wants to be part of the 1962 Malibu surfer crowd, but has to find a way to overcome her own issues — which include multiple personality disorder — to do so.

Covington describes his character as “the overbearing mother. … the over-protective mother who’s just a little bit whacked out herself.” It is the first time he has taken on a supporting role in a Busch play instead of one of the central characters.

It is a “really exciting opportunity,” the actor said, that “grew out of Charles Busch’s generosity and his willingness to reach out to me. It’s really kind of cool we’re doing this revised play. It’s kind of fabulous.”

Busch is “just terrific,” Covington continued, “and very honest. When he told me he was revising this play, I asked him, ‘Can’t you do something to pad my part?’ He just said, ‘No. It’s a supporting role, darling. I know you are used to being center stage, but this is a supporting role.’

“And you know, that impressed me even more!”

Covington, who began his stage career in the early 1990s, is known for specializing in female roles, performed in drag, and this is the 10th time he has performed a female role in a Charles Busch play.

“I started doing his plays — I think the first one was in 1992, Red Scare on Sunset. I just sort of fell into his rhythm,” the actor said of his affinity for Busch plays. “He’s just got this kind of effortless, brassy elegance that draws me toward him.”

As a performer and a playwrght, Covington said Busch is “very theatrical and generous,” with a “witty, urbane glamor” that shines through his work.

“His vernacular and his syntax is just so unique,” Covington said. “So he’s fun to talk to, fun to read. I mean, his Facebook posts are legendary. His writing is just so specialized, so stylized, but at the same time, that makes it hard to memorize.”

He noted that because this is the first time the revised version of Beach Party will be staged, “We’re trying to go word-for-word, to do it exactly as it’s written. And there is this one line I kept getting wrong. I kept saying, ‘I can see clearly now.’ But when I went back and reread the script, I realized that the actual line is, ‘I see now clearly.’

“It just puts a more theatrical spin on the lines,” Covington said. “He just has a certain way of arranging the words that gives it that Charles Busch spin, which is just more fabulous than the usual.”

Covington admits that he has thought of following even further in Busch’s footsteps and writing his own plays. “He doesn’t do parodies; he does satire. He pays homage to these glamorous old movies, and if I wrote, I would definitely do that. I would probably have similar themes, the same comic sensibility.

“So yes, I have thought about writing, but I haven’t ever gotten around to putting pen to paper.”

He would also strive, Covington said, to add another element of Busch’s work to his own writing: “His writing is also a little bit naughty. There’s glamor and elegance, with some of the movies’ innuendo — and then there’s just a little bit of raunch thrown in, and I love that. It just adds a whole new layer.”

While he may someday write his own plays, for now Covington said he is focused on doing his best with Busch’s work. “I just really look up to him,” Covington said. “And he really does need to keep writing!

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 24, 2016.

—  Tammye Nash

Applause: Don’t Ohlook away

Keep an eye out for Ohlook Performing Arts, a suburban theater company with an edge

Ohlook doesn’t offer your mother’s idea of community theater. Shows like ‘Debbie Does Dallas,’ ‘Vampire Lesbians of Sodom’ and ‘The Rocky Horror Show’ (pictured) definitely give edge to the ‘burbs.

A conservative bedroom community like Grapevine, Texas,  isn’t the first burg you think of when you consider a hotbed of nightlife. Maybe you can get a nice dinner, do some shopping, even drinks. But late-night theater with vampire lesbians?  That doesn’t seem much like a suburban offering.

But almost defiantly, and with fascinatingly good reason, the folks behind Ohlook Performing Arts Center embrace the idea of edgy shows in the ‘burbs. And, as it turns out, the community seems to be following suit.

“I’m surprised that we haven’t had more of a backlash,” says producing artistic director Jill Blalock-Lord. “But we have a board that supports what we’re doing and hey, there are gay people in the ‘burbs, too!”

In recent months, Ohlook has produced some very queer shows that even urbanites in Dallas proper might drop their jaws at. They just came off a double-feature of Charles Busch plays — Vampire Lesbians of Sodom and Psycho Beach Party — that ran back-to-back as part of Ohlook’s late-show adult series, as well as productions of Debbie Does Dallas and Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead.

All that begs the question: How are their neighbors in the GOP-friendly ‘hoods of Grapevine, Southlake and Colleyville adjusting?

“Well, the city hasn’t given us a lot of support, but they leave us alone,” Lord says. “We were worried with Trannie, but even in this community, we haven’t had any problems.”

Yes, Trannie.

In February, Ohlook debuted Trannie: A Musical written by Lord’s husband and Redneck Tenor founder Matthew Lord, about a cross-dressing prostitute who searches for the men who gave her up when gay couples were denied adoption rights. But the surprise was on Ohlook: People came out for the show.

Still, the company isn’t specifically gay-centric. In fact, Blalock-Lord says it’s really just been a coincidence — not that there’s anything wrong with that.

“I don’t think gay content is the quantifying factor, but I tend to like the message [it] bears,” Blalock-Lord says. “Honestly, we’ll do anything out there because we will do any kind of edgy show.”

They took the gay-themed play Dog Sees God to the American Association of Community Theatre play festival in Rochester, N.Y., and won six awards for it, including best overall production.

Blalock-Lord clearly gets the unbelievable wackiness that her theater company has undertaken. But she wasn’t trying to necessarily step out of the box and be something other community theaters were not.

“Ohlook started as an educational program with student shows,” she explains. “As my kids were growing up, they wanted to be in more adult shows. And so actors that started with us as children are growing into adults in our shows.”

“That’s part of the reason we do those shows,” board member Julie Hahn adds. “We have some talented and serious young people and we offer quality training. These are the shows they wanna do.”

This next season, Ohlook plans to present three shows: The Who’s Tommy, Evil Dead and they’re deciding between Christmas Rocky Horror or Scrooge’s Groovy Christmas. There has been some difficulty in planning because Ohlook is looking for a new home.

“Yeah, we’ve been given our notice so we’re on the lookout,” Blalock-Lord says. “We’re hoping to stay in same area, but we have friends who say come to Dallas. Well, they got theaters in Dallas!”

With a fan base already set, they have every intention of staying close by and they will be in their original space for Tommy, even though it starts later than planned. (“We didn’t want it to open here and then close there,” she laughs.)

Regardless of their struggles, Blalock-Lord feels like Ohlook will always have its peculiar take on theater. And for gay audiences, including some of Ohlook’s students who have made their own self-discoveries, there’s always going to be a place for campy theater — even if it’s way up north.

“I noticed people came from all over to our shows,” she says. “We wanna do shows that bring in an audience and we have revenue from our classes that allows us to be more adventurous. It’s ideal. Part of theater is to educate, but you gotta have fun. Otherwise, what’s the point?”

For more information about Ohlook, visit

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 26, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas