In a powerhouse performance, Joe Le Mieux pulls the audience – willing or unwilling – into Charlie Manson’s crazy, messed-up head. But is that infamous head really so messed up? Charlie definitely doesn’t believe that and goes to energetic extremes to let everyone know that he’s cool as a cucumber and can describe every trick that those manipulative people in power foist on unsuspecting Americans.
With a delightfully satiric and tongue-in-cheek twinkle in his eye, Charlie keeps everybody glued to his non-stop high-octane narration. From the moment he pops out of the gas chamber stage center, steamy vapors rising in the air, to his final cheery goodbye as he strolls into infinity, Charlie is gripping, funny, and sometimes poignant.
Playwright Stephen A. Cardinal has caught just the right Charlie, arrogant, confident, and full of ideas just north of sanity – but are they? After a while, some of Charlie’s ideas may begin to sound not quite so nuts. Director Tom Waters has skillfully helmed the rivers and tributaries of Charlie’s internal stream of consciousness. Above all, the uber-talented Joe Le Mieux has infused Charlie with the enthusiasm and (sort of) genuine innocence that he professes. The weight of the tale definitely falls on Le Mieux’s shoulders; and he manages to weave together Manson’s history, goals, mind-blowing philosophy, and ingratiating personality into a fascinating personality study of an infamous criminal who died within the past year. Besides, I AM CHARLIE is fun in a weird sort of way.
The set designed by Vincent Lappas, Sam Judy, and Tom Waters is deceptively simple and yet brings the audience into Charlie’s world, a world of bars, gas chambers, and painful but predictable structure, a world which Charlie rises above as he nests inside his own head (and a few television screens). Because Charlie can convince almost anyone that he never did anything wrong: he’s the poor victim of “the system.” All he ever wanted to do was create music, but the crafty folks in the music industry dealt him a low blow, cheated and tricked him. Sam Judy’s lighting, Princella Baker Jr.’s video/sound design, and Andrea Chiaramonte’s graphic design definitely add some interesting dimensions to Charlie’s story.
To the question of whether or not there ever was a “Manson family,” Charlie evidenced genuine confusion by the statement. After all, he merely offered a bunch of lost kids a place to call home. Manipulate their minds? Never. The thought is foolish, and wrong. Yet again, Charlie’s kindness has been turned into evil. Besides, he was mainly interested in getting laid. Can anyone blame him for surrounding himself with nubile young girls? Drugs? There were a few; but, after all, that was a mark of the times.
I AM CHARLIE runs through October 21, 2018, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. The Promenade Playhouse is located at 1404 3rd Street Promenade, Santa Monica, CA 90401. Tickets are $35. For information and reservations, call 310-656-8070 or go online.