Psychologically mediocre, I Am Charlie at the Promenade Playhouse, Santa Monica, CA doesn’t reveal anything new about all that has been written on the late American criminal, cult leader and L.A. music industry fringe singer-songwriter Charles Manson. Although, it does touch upon a great many modern political points using Manson as a propeller into today’s arena of hot-bed issues. But not without a bit of difficulty.
Charlie is just as narcissistic and psychotic as ever, comparing himself to all of his predecessors and derivatives thereafter, via a cumulative count of Google notations in the hundreds of millions. Because, as he likes to remind us, for as much as you hate him, you’ll never forget him. You still find him fascinating. And the ‘why’ according to Charlie is the key to his magnetizing allure.
In this his solo debut, he professes himself to be the messenger, not the actual prophet, Helter Skelter, Charlie’s attributed chimeric vision of an apocalyptic future. He was merely here, like John the Baptist to Jesus, because messiahs and messengers come in pairs, as the forerunner, disseminating the truth – that human beings were already creating the violence that they would destroy themselves with. He was here to open up your eyes about what is right in front of your face.
And one other detail…he wants to be clear…there never was a Manson ‘family’. He never sought to put together a nuclear unit. All of those people just came along for the ride and decided to glue themselves together into something that YOU could recognize. It was nothing more. He was nothing more. He didn’t even commit the murders. They did.
I Am Charlie plays out a bit on the softer side of a psychotic killer, with Manson characterized as an almost fun-loving trickster who just popped out of a Jack in the Box. The material is interesting and in depth, but there is so much to digest that the points occasionally get drowned out by the attempted cleverness of the script.
Well cast physically and vocally, lead actor Joe Le Mieux keenly portrays Manson in all of his deluded, unaffected psychosis. The pace is a bit too slow though and it interrupts the possibility of going along for the imaginative ride with the material.
Nevertheless, the ideas presented are intriguing and inklings of profundity are there, if you can stick with this piece to find them.
Playwright: Stephen A. Cardinal
Director: Tom Waters
Featuring Joe Le Mieux as “Charlie Manson”
Artistic Director: Natalia Lazarus
Produced by El Gato Rojo and Promenade Playhouse
Set Design: Sam Judy and Tom Waters
Lighting Design: Sam Judy
Video Design: Prin Baker
Video Teaser Camera Shoot: Tom Waters and Manuel Pineda
Video Editing: Heide Fliegner
Production Stills: by Tom Waters