Toronto theatre company Echo Productions is back onstage at the LSPU Hall this week with “Charlie: Son of Man,” an Adrian Yearwood play based on “master manipulator” Charles Manson.
Taking the cold, hard facts of this sensational 1969 murder case and splicing them with today’s realities brings a new outlook on the Manson Family murders.
In 1969, hallucinogenic drugs and sex were powerful tools. Fifty years later, in 2019, mobile phones are the new drug.
Working with a large and complex multi-level set, and live onstage music by Kyle Duffin accompanying the show, the Victoria Fuller-directed and choreographed “Charlie: Son of Man” production makes great use of the stage, the 12-person cast using all available space for dance numbers, acrobatics and group scenes.
The show opens with a courtroom scene, where the judge (Michelle Nash) and counsel (Gillian Bartolucci) are not enjoying Manson’s antics, as they attempt to find Manson, Susan (Sadie) Atkins (Courtney Lamanna) and Leslie Van Houten (Kierstyn Parks) guilty of seven murders that occurred within a 24-hour period in Los Angeles.
From the beginning of the show, it is obvious that actor James Karfilis has studied the character he is portraying, mimicking Manson’s unpredictable behaviour, his articulation, and even his piercing, “crazy” eyes and facial expressions.
Karfilis’ manic Manson often comes across as a televangelist type, filling his followers’ heads with bold guarantees and outlandish claims, all promising greatness, glory and a seat at the top. Unlike most televangelists, however, Manson believes he actually is Jesus Christ.
“Charlie: Son of Man” follows not just Manson, but his followers, too, attempting to unravel the mystery of how a group of young twenty-somethings became embroiled in one of the most infamous murder sprees of the 20th century.
The show bounces back and forth between the trial and days at the Spahn Ranch, where the audience watches the Family (Stephen Mashalidis, Cora Matheson, Tanya Filipopoulos, Allison Wall, Jensen Porter) grow from wayward hipsters drunk on free love to cold-blooded killers. One can see and sympathize with how people were drawn toward the dominating man.
The modern-day approach of “Charlie: Son of Man” is immediately evident, as the Manson Family members follow the trial via Twitter. The family is phone obsessed, constantly taking selfies, captioned with witty hashtags, like #standbyyourman after Manson abuses a Family member, #hatewhenbaeleaves when Bobby Beausoleil (Adrian Yearwood) leaves to kill Gary Hinman (Ethan Saulnier), and #squadgoals, when the Family departs for an evening of recreational homicide, with a dash of misguided political activism.
A surprising amount of laughter can be found in the show, as well as some jaw-dropping scenes, like a bloody rampage accentuated by strobe lights.
Each actor – many of them originally from Newfoundland and Labrador – is clearly well versed in their craft, putting on a delightfully smooth and bright production of a very dark story.
“Charlie: Son of Man” plays at 8 p.m. March 21-23, with a 2 p.m. matinee on March 24 at the LSPU Hall in St. John’s.