This weekend’s openings feature two prominent Wilmington veterans, each of whom will expose their passion for live theatre. Playwright Tony Moore treks into the world of serious drama for the first time in nine years, while director and thespian Richard Davis shares a zany comedy which inspired his career.
Moore’s latest story, “The Bennett Boy,” will be presented by ByChance Productions and directed by Steve Vernon at Cape Fear Playhouse. Davis opens “Psycho Beach Party,” courtesy of his company Guerilla Theatre, at Brown Coat Pub and Theatre. Here’s a sneak peek into both shows.
THE BENNETT BOY
January 19-22 and 27-28
Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m. • Sun., 3 p.m.
Cape Fear Playhouse • 613 Castle St.
$12 • (910) 471-5690
Like any family, the Bennetts are forced to conquer struggles, both individually and as a whole. Thankfully, they also are able to pull together despite troubling circumstances. Therein lies the focus of Moore’s “The Bennet Boy”: and strength through adversity.
“The core characters have all had something to overcome,” Moore says. “They each deal with their problems in a different way, and while there may be skirmishes amongst themselves, as a unit they are quick to defend one another. They are all very relatable human beings.”
In the writer’s script, 10-year-old Carson (Richard Woodcock) is brought up by his single father, Jordan, played by Moore himself. Jordan isn’t without help, though. His brother Dennis (Brendan Carter), mother Betty (Chris Brown) and live-in nanny Brooke (Heather Setzler) all have their hand in raising Carson. Set during the boy’s birthday party, an uninvited guest shows up from Jordan’s past and threatens to demolish the Bennett family’s way of life. He also holds the power to change each person forever.
“One of the primary stresses for people is their family,” Moore states. “Coming to see our show and watching this family operate and interact will hopefully help people understand that they aren’t the only ones with a dysfunctional [brood]. Every[one] has skeletons in their closet. They all have a past—and every family has a struggle to overcome.”
Penning shows since high school, Moore has primarily worked in comedy; it’s what comes naturally. Yet, like most writers, he believes he has room to grow, which is why he’s reaching beyond the norm and stepping into his own storytelling’s unchartered territory.
“I really wanted to push myself and see if I could create a play solely based on a dramatic situation and not a comedic one,” he notes. “I learned that writing for laughs, for me anyway, is much easier than composing a drama. My natural tendency is to go for the joke. . . But with ‘The Bennett Boy,’ I only incorporated humor when needed and relied more on the story as told by the characters.”
Having warmly embraced his works in the past, Cape Fear Playhouse hosts “The Bennett Boy,” with opening night on Thursday, January 19th. “[Theatre] is the best place to make your work come to life,” Moore says. “Entertaining people is a priority, and providing the best work for them to view is very important to me—and I think original work is an important part of theater. Every famous show, every long-running Broadway musical, every play studied in theater class, were at one time original pieces. Wilmington is a very welcoming place for artists; it’s wonderful to be in a place that lets people so freely work on their craft and gain knowledge and experience.”
PSYCHO BEACH PARTY
January 19-22 and 26-29 • 8 p.m.
Brown Coat Pub and Theatre • 111 Grace St.
$8-15 • www.guerillatheatre.com
“Psycho Beach Party” a pivotal piece in Richard Davis’ life. An off-the-wall story, it was both the first play he ever performed and the first he ever directed.
“This play helped me discover different passions at different times in my life,” Davis says. “It has tested me and helped me prove to myself what I’m capable of achieving.”
In the late ‘80s, playwright Charles Busch—known campy, over the-top ridiculousness—created “Psycho Beach Party” as a spoof on the Gidget-style beach movies of the 1960s. In the year 2000, Robert Lee King directed the film version which featured actresses Lauren Ambrose, Amy Adams and Busch himself as Captain Monica Stark.
Yes, that’s right—Monica. As a writer, Busch loved to feature actors in drag for his lead roles; he’s known for his female impersonations. Busch told the New York Times in 1994, “Drag is being more, more than you can be. It’s so much fun to be big. Excess is thrilling to me.”
Actor Wes Brown is now experiencing the trials of performing as the opposite sex as he fills the star role of Chicklet in the Guerilla Theatre production, which opens Thursday. The girl—although outwardly a sweet and innocent young lady—suffers from a sort of split personality disorder. Thus, Brown’s not only transforming himself into one woman but many.
“It’s been a daunting task for Wes, and I’ve demanded a lot of him in a short amount of time,” Davis details. “In the end, he’s doing a wonderful job jumping from one distinct character to another—sometimes three or four in the span of just a few lines. He definitely leaves the stage every night absolutely exhausted, and that’s the way it should be.”
Davis says he encouraged Brown to prepare for the changes by focusing on broad-stroke representations of certain character archetypes: the little girl, the dominatrix and so on. “Once we have a skeleton drawn, we can paint in the details,” he notes. “Of course, this is even more difficult because Wes is a male actor being asked to portray a female character.”
A Mademoiselle critic, in review of the 2000 film, claims “Psycho Beach Party” is part “‘50s psychodrama, a ‘60s beach movie and a ‘70s slasher film.” Which has pretty much become the tagline of the entire show. Yet, Davis doesn’t totally agree.
“It’s really difficult to compare ‘Psycho Beach Party’ to the iconic slasher flicks of the ‘70s, in my opinion,” he explains. “No one dies. There’s no blood or gore. It’s all much more innocent than that. I suppose that connection really comes from the fact that, like in such great films as ‘Halloween,’ ‘Friday the 13th’ and ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre,’ there seems to be a link between sex and punishment. The characters in ‘Psycho Beach Party’ who are attacked are characters who have had sex—or it is at least implied that they did.”
Still, the movie can’t help but be somewhat tongue-in-cheek in homage to such genres. “When Star Cat uses his ‘three semesters of psychiatric training’ to coax Chicklet into exploring the many personalities that are pulling her brain apart, Busch definitely dips his toe into the psychodrama techniques that were so popular in the 1950s,” Davis continues. “You could also make an argument that the entire play is an exercise in psychodrama as each character is such an over-the-top representation of certain specific stereotypes. Beneath the zaniness, ‘Psycho Beach Party’ really is an interesting look into how society perceives youth culture.”
This performance is another piece to the puzzle that is Guerilla Theatre’s mission: to produce obscure shows by lesser-known playwrights. Such is what they search for when showcasing non-original plays (like “Cannibal! The Musical,” for instance), whether locally penned or not.
“As a director, I wanted the play to come off as an hour-and-a-half-long cartoon performed live,” Davis shares. “The play itself is one of the funniest I’ve ever read. It’s so [ridiculous] that [one] can’t help but laugh. Charles Busch did such a wonderful job weaving this psychdelic tapestry.”