STAGE TO SCREEN: Busch Goes Psycho; O'Brien Has New Horror

News   STAGE TO SCREEN: Busch Goes Psycho; O'Brien Has New Horror With the current rash of teen slasher flicks and the growing number of gay and drag-themed independent features, it was just a matter of time. Psycho Beach Party has made it to the big screen.

With the current rash of teen slasher flicks and the growing number of gay and drag-themed independent features, it was just a matter of time. Psycho Beach Party has made it to the big screen.

Charles Busch's over-the-top comedy just finished filming in Los Angeles. And since no Busch production would be complete without Ruth Williamson -- she's appeared in four Busch shows since 1995, including The Green Heart and Queen Amarantha -- he wrote her a small role as Pat, a waitress at the diner where the kids all hang out. "Charles asked me to do a sort of homage to my hometown of Baltimore, so I have this John Waters accent," says Williamson, who went directly from her "one very, very long day of filming" to rehearsals for Epic Proportions. (She and Epic co-star Kristin Chenoweth are also doing the Thoroughly Modern Millie workshop by day.)

Lauren Ambrose stars in the role originally played by Busch; Matthew Keeslar (he was the dim mechanic/ leading man in "Waiting for Guffman") and Thomas Gibson ("Dharma & Greg") are among the co-stars. Busch has graduated to the role of the deputy sheriff: "'Trust me, though, he's a very glamorous deputy sheriff," says Williamson. Writing a role for yourself has its own advantages, as Busch's character now has a love scene with Gibson. "For the first time in his life," she says, "'Charles had to find a body double. Breasts were required."

Psycho Beach Party isn't the only drag show coming to Hollywood. "Rocky Horror Picture Show," creator/co-star Richard O'Brien made some headlines a week or so back by unveiling plans for the sequel, which he plans to have scripted by March 2000. O'Brien, who played the scraggly haired hunchback, Riff Raff, in the original stage and film versions, told the New York Post that the new "Rocky" will go directly to the screen. (This has nothing to do with ""Shock Treatment," the 1981 pseudo-sequel that audiences and critics both shunned.)

As someone who spent his formative years ushering at a theatre that featured midnight "Rocky Horror" screenings, I am ambivalent at best about the film. I was once handed a ticket caked in vomit; from that night on, I would offer my fellow ushers as much as $10 to work the other wing of our multiplex. Still, the movie and play both have fierce proponents- James Carpinello and David Arquette recently starred in an L.A. stage production -- so I thought this would be worth passing on. Speaking of longtime playwright/ performer connections, Joe Mantegna is making his directorial debut with an adaptation of David Mamet's Lakeboat. Mantegna, who has starred in several Mamet films and won a Tony for Glengarry Glen Ross, is filming on a real, honest to-goodness, 700-foot freighter on Lake Ontario. His co-stars include Robert Forster, Charles Durning, George Wendt and Denis Leary.

Danny Hoch's monologues have included swipes at Hollywood in the past, so it comes as a bit of a surprise that his film debut, "Whiteboys," is being released (sort of) by Fox Searchlight. Hoch, who also wrote the script, stars as an Iowa farmboy determined to make it as a hip-hop star. The soundtrack features tracks by Snoop Doggy Dogg and Slick Rick; this playlist is standard for black-themed movies but pretty rare for a movie that stemmed from monologues at P.S. 122.

"Whiteboys," directed by Marc Levin ("Slam," the upcoming Anna Deavere Smith adaptation, "Twilight"), seems to be taking a circuitous route to the theatres. It opened in Detroit a few weeks ago, hits New York on Oct. 8 and then -- well, that's unclear at the moment. This week's Sunday New York Times, which is virtually the only non-Web mass-market medium available to film budgets that can't afford TV commercials, has no advertisements for the film. It does have a pretty impressive web site, which is absolutely central for small-budget films in the post-"Blair Witch" era.

Cutting-Room Floor: It hasn't been finalized yet, but Sidney Lumet is poised to direct Janet McTeer in a new adaptation of "A Doll's House," this one by Hollywood veteran Larry Gross. Buzz has been building for McTeer's star turn in the independent film "Tumbleweeds"; if the hype proves true, and Hollywood really takes notice, look for funding to get lined up quickly for her second go-around as Nora. ... "'Body Shots," a sort of date-rape "Rashomon" that is, unfortunately, selling itself as a teen sex romp, marks the feature film directorial debut of Pulitzer prize-winning Michael Cristofer (The Shadow Box). Cristofer's biggest credit prior to this was the HBO film "Gia." "'Body Shots"' opens Oct. 22.... Word on the updated teen Othello, now called "0," is that Josh Hartnett steals the show as lago (here, Hugo). ... "Man of the Century," which opens Oct. 15, features a batch of New York actors, including Susan Egan and Anthony Rapp. The plot follows a fast-talking, 1920s-style newspaper reporter who has no idea it's the `90s.

Eric Grode is New York bureau chief of Show Music magazine, assistant editor of The Sondheim Review and a theatre critic for Back Stage.