Mr. Peter Folger (John F. Goff) wants to know why his daughter was taken from this earth too soon. He has hired a private investigator (Philip Sokoloff) who, unfortunately, tells him something he does not want to know: that his beloved daughter may have known her murderer prior to the fateful night of her death.
Time rolls back to 1968 when Folger’s former wife, Mrs. Ines Folger (Kathleen Coyne) had taken up two dangerous and ill-advised practices for a woman of her status and means. Ines Folger has decided to volunteer at a Haight Ashbury medical clinic in an effort to find and re-connect, with her estranged daughter. She opens her luxurious estate home, wining and dining flower children and hippies of all kinds in an effort to prove to her daughter that she is open to any life choices she makes; Mrs. Folger just wants her daughter to come home.
It is at one of these open house parties that Mrs. Folger coincidentally meets a young, magnetic singer-songwriter, Charles Manson (Tyson Robert Turron). He’s thoughtful and slightly older, and mildly more lucid than many of the revelers who had landed at her home this night. It is Mrs. Folger, through a seemingly harmless lament, who sets Charles on the path to target Abigail.
Abigail Folger (Ivy Khan) does no bore the burden of being a child of the privileged class well. She is in a difficult, on again-off again relationship with Wojciech Frykowski (Mark Dellman), a writer who enjoys the comforts of class and money (and girls) far too well for Abigail to think of his as a true struggling artist.
When Abigail meets Charles, she too is drawn to his rhetoric of class injustice and the loathsome decadence of wealth. Abigail is quickly intoxicated by Charles’ culture of drugs and rebellion. He shows a freedom that she has never known before.
Abigail takes only months to see the danger and darkness of this newfound evangelist. Yet the more she tries to distance herself from him, the harder it is to break free. Meanwhile, at his compound in Spahn Ranch, Manson preaches the details of the impending race wars to his drugged-out followers, and outlines what their role will be in this apocalyptic event.
I think the biggest misstep this production makes is starting the show at the end. The script assumes that the audience knows the details and players in the Manson Family Murders. In doing so, it takes great pains assure that the play you are about to see is taken as fictitious events; but it does not take into account the audience members, like myself, who don’t know the grim tale. As a result, I found myself simply waiting to see when the Coffee Heiress would die and how.
Also, the script felt overwritten, as if scenes were added at the end to both give actors one more opportunity to be on stage, as well as to re-iterate the bright shiny future Abigail was head for, so her demise would feel even more tragic. Death is always tragic. However, if you are interested in that particular conspiracy theory or that nook of macabre American history, you probably won’t mind that the foreshadowing meanders at the end.
For me, the performances were pretty flat. The production emulates the look and sound of the 60s Flower Power culture, and the actors certainly display the behavior of drugged out hippies, but the performances on the whole lack credibility. I simply didn’t feel transported. Turron and Khan as Manson and Abigail respectively, do some great scene together, but even their chemistry is hit-and-miss from one scene to the next.
There were some very interesting choices in the creation of the soundscape and lighting design of this production, but ultimately, I think the space itself - the tiered segmented stage – didn’t really allow for anything interesting in terms of the staging; although that didn’t stop director L. Flint Esquerra from trying.
I liked the “Gibby McGoo” song, sort of. In context from Charles, it seemed appropriately haunting, but it losses its punch when the chorus sang it at the end.
California Dreamin’ is running through March 11, 2012 at:
The Met Theatre
1089 N. Oxford Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90029
Photo Credit: Irene Hovey