“I’m in the bullring. I run in the bullring with the heart of the world. I don’t play. I shoot people. I’m too bad. I’m a mean guy. I’m an outlaw. I’m a criminal. I’m everything bad.”
~Charles Manson in the Spanish edition of Vanity Fair, Monday, April 18th, 2011
Who would have thought that murderous Charlie Manson wanted to be remembered as a singer and not an infamous killer? He’s not the first nutjob to get sidetracked. Look at Hitler. His first love was painting not becoming a highly influential bastard. Manson was insane but not crazy-insane. This man had an answer for anything asked of him and he said it with such clear eloquence that it was taken as the gospel. He was a mean son-of-a-bitch but he was a smart mean son-of-a-bitch. He died at age 83 on Sunday, November 19th 2017 from a tri-fecta of ill conditions: cardiac arrest, colon cancer and respiratory failure. Too bad it came 46 years late. His former “family members,”— Susan Atkins, Linda Kasabian, Patricia Krenwinkel and Charles Denton “Tex” Watson Jr. — continued having Manson’s back. Atkins passed away from brain cancer at 61 on September 24, 2009 while still imprisoned.
Joe Le Mieux’s portrayal of Charles Manson is the most brutally honest portrait of an infamous individual I’ve seen. He doesn’t apologize for his crimes. Manson doesn’t believe he did anything wrong. He did what he was supposed to do, which was to wreak havoc and act as if it was the most normal thing in the world. Le Mieux’s Manson, is charming, funny and verbally expressive. Charlie can talk forever without a pause. Then, he says something crazy and you remember who you are dealing with—a psychotic ass who likes to wear skinny jeans. He states his case to the audience in three acts: young child, criminal and sells his soul to the devil. That’s a very succinct summary of a man who was worshipped as a god and believed his own press. Le Mieux breaks down the Charles Manson myth into bite-size snackable tidbits. Charlie keeps up with his fan mail as a basket overflowing with letters demanding a piece of him for their own keepsake. Elvis probably felt the same way. Using two large TV screens on both sides of the stage with female voices understood to be from his “family,” Charlie has pictures of other notorious killers such as John Wayne Gacy and Ted Bundy, while talking smack about how they were overt in their crimes. They had to be important and well-known. Whereas, Charlie sees himself as the messenger not the message. By the way, there was no Manson Family and he was not a father figure. Charlie equals that to “fake news.” He never claimed he had a family that was the media’s doing. The same media that built him up as this god-like figure who must be obeyed. He reminds us that Helter Skelter came from a 1968 Beatles song from the White Album record. Paul McCartney wrote the song symbolizing as a “ride from the top to the bottom; the rise and fall of the Roman Empire – and this was the fall, the demise.” Charlie used it to ignite a race war and also as a catalyst for the Rosemary LaBianca and Sharon Tate murders in 1969. Charlie isn’t bothered by the murders. It happened because it had to happen. If you drink enough vodka, his craziness will make sense.
Le Mieux goes in deep. His eyes bug out as wide as possible whenever his alter-ego becomes excited about what he plans next. Le Mieux effortlessly keeps up the frenetic pace of playwright Stephen A. Cardinal’s opus. It is fun observing a mad man at work. Le Mieux is wonderful to watch. He goes in deep into Manson’s screwed-up mind and almost makes him likable, I wrote almost. Don’t get it twisted. Manson was a monster, but, his madness made sense, true to others who felt the same way, but also, towards people who were caught under his spell and still choose to remain there. His followers are physically and mentally in prison, but their, faith in Manson never wavered. Now that’s major skill.
I Am Charlie plays until Sunday, October 21st. Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. at the Promenade Playhouse, located at 1404 3rd Street, in Santa Monica. For ticket information, log-on to www.promenadeplayhouse.com