By Joe Straw
“This play, California Dreamin’, is a work of fiction. Although it is inspired by real people and actual events, it is not, and is not intended to be, an accurate portrayal of real people, real incidents or historical events as they actually occurred” – A flyer in the program – author unknown
Growing up in the south, I was part of an international marching band. Robert Morse, our band instructor, had a peculiar liking to “California Dreamin”. To this day, I still think of it as a haunting melody—not really a song to lift the spirits. It was more of a dirge for the opposing team – leave the stadium, you’re whipped – go home.
Still it was haunting in a way that made one want to leave Tennessee and experience California. Today, after a long and sometimes painful journey, I exist here.
“California dreamin’ on such a winters day…”
One might, or might not believe, the actual events presented in this play but the end result remains the same. Suspend all that you know about the Tate/La Bianca murders in 1969, free your mind, and let the fictional account of this play lead you to the events of this tragic night. But, that is entirely up to you.
The Met Theatre presents the world premiere of California Dreamin,’ by Jill Charlotte Thomas, directed by L. Flint Esquerra, and magnificently produced by Paul Koslo and Gabrieal Griego. This is a monster of a show. Skillfully written by Thomas and wonderfully directed by Esquerra, this show ends with the hair standing on the back of your neck.
The play has a rough start but then begins to move along. Slowly the pieces of the puzzle fit, and as the events start to unfold, the play soars magnificently. It’s been a while since I’ve been this excited about an original piece of work by a playwright who deserves recognition. This is, without a doubt, a terrifying play with tremendous potential.
Peter Folger (John F. Goff) opens the play with a eulogy to his daughter, Abigail Folger (Ivy Kahn). He is heartbroken. But burying his daughter does not mean this is the end. Not wanting his daughter hauled through the mud, he enlists a private detective, Investigator MacDonald (Philip Sokoloff), to cover up any connection between Abigail, the drugs, and the murderer. MacDonald knows Abigail Folger had drugs in her system but he will do his best to keep her name out of the headlines.
It worked because the murders, to this day, are called the Tate/La Bianca murders.
“All the leaves are brown…”
A flashback to an earlier time takes us to the Haight Ashbury clinic in San Francisco where Ines Folger (Kathleen Coyne) is volunteering in a methadone clinic. Ines meets Sunshine (Samantha Posey) and speaks to her about her drug problem. She then hands Sunshine an invitation to a cocktail party at her home a days later. This seems very odd, inviting drug addicts to your home and serving them alcohol, another drug. No good can come from this action.
Sunshine asks if she can bring her “friends”.
“And the sky is grey…”
Later, Ines and Peter, long divorced, wait for the guests and for Abigail (Ivy Khan) to arrive. Peter believes inviting the Haight Ashbury drug hippies is a bad idea and wants these people to leave. Not wanting any more from these roustabouts, Peter walks away from the cocktail party. Sunshine and her “friends” step up to the bar and get wasted.
Abigail is a no show.
“I’ve been for a walk on a winters day…”
Distraught by the sudden change of events, Ines holds her head, feels a migraine coming on, and staggers to the garden. But, in the distance, she sees a shadowy figure, alone in the corner. The figure prostrate on the ground is Charles Manson. Charles uses his friendly demeanor to get acquainted. He asks for her hand and pinches a spot to relieve the headache pain.
“The kids, they listen to me.” – Charles Manson
“I’d be safe and warm, if I was in LA…”
Comforted now, Ines suggests to her new friend, Charles, that he go to Los Angeles and speak to her daughter, Abigail. And it’s not too long before Charles finds Abigail as she and Petra (Rachel Kerbs) are trying to get a cat out of a tree. Petra insults Charles in various ways but Abigail sees a redeeming quality in this man.
“California Dreamin’ on such a winter’s day…”
Later, at the California Club in Los Angeles, Ines and Peter meet with Abigail and Petra for lunch. Abigail is on various drugs and can hardly keep her head up. Peter scolds his daughter and suggests she cleans up her act. Petra is embarrassed and takes Abigail away.
Manson, holding a guitar, meets Abigail at a party in a home on Waverly Drive (La Bianca’s house). Abigail’s boyfriend, Wojciech Frykowski (Mark Deliman), is in the bathroom getting drugged out of his mind. With Frykowski out of the way Manson moves on to Abigail. They go through a little role-play and when Manson asks her name, she tells him her name is “McGoo.”
“You’re a pretty little smart ass.” – Manson
Not entirely comfortable, Abigail waits for Frykowski to come out of the bathroom. Manson lets on that he knows her true identity.
“Your people sell coffee.” – Manson
Later, Dr. Flicker (Philip Sokoloff) meets with Abigail to help her through her journey of life. She has questions about her relationship with her parents, drugs, and her boyfriend.
When she gets home, Frykowski is having a pool party with bikini clad young ladies Abigail doesn’t know. She controls her anger and runs away right into the arms of another man. And, as bad luck would have it that space is occupied by Manson. He is playing a guitar and singing about a woman, Gibby McGoo. (Gibby is a nickname used by Abigail’s friends.)
Abigail establishes a relationship with Manson and the two of them get high together.
Later Manson at Spahn ranch and with bible in hand, speaks to his followers about killing people saying that it’s okay since “the soul can’t be destroyed”. When Tex Watson (Sean Andrews) questions his logic, Manson strangles him to near death.
The acting in this production is superb and sublime. The leads are engrossing and the supporting cast helps this play move along exquisitely.
Tyson Robert Turrou is fantastic as Charles Manson. His mesmerizing portrayal of a man on the edge, complete with dark secrets, and motives only known to him. It is, in fact, an incredible performance, with many layers, taking us down the many dark secluded alleyways of his mind. Even when he is shackled, he is terrifying. And complete in character Turrou tops it off with a fine singing voice. Remarkable.
Ivy Khan as Abigail Folger does some wonderful work. She portrays a woman with money who, because of her addiction, is at the bottom rung of her social ladder. Inebriated, or high, she doesn’t see life around her and when she finally comes down she is able to glimpse the reality around her. Try as she might, she is surrounded by people who can help her if only she would ask. But by the time she makes a decision to turn her life around, she takes the wrong hand and it is too late. Khan’s work is astonishing because she reveals the range and the capability of this woman’s life.
John F. Goff as Mr. Folger had some nice moments. Opening night presented some problems but he eventually found his way. There is more to this role than chastising his daughter. If his objective is to protect her daughter at all cost, he should find a way to reach that objective in ways that are more imaginative and clearer. Still, not bad.
Kathleen Coyne as Mrs. Folger started slowly but eventually caught on. As the character, she is clueless as to the harm she brought upon herself and her family. If her objective is to help her daughter at all cost, she should find the way in the ways the character knows how.
Mark Deliman is delightful as Wojciech Frykowski. As the character, he is a bugger of a man complete with Polish accent. As the character, Frykowski has dreams of becoming a famous writer but the Hollywood life keeps getting in the way. He loves Abigail and he wants to be with her but, because English is his third language, he cannot express his true love. His idioms confuses himself, which is a wonderful characterization during the course of the play and provides us with some very witty dialogue.
Rachel Kerbs as Petra is stunning. She has a deep emotional commitment to her character and her moments on stage are charming and devilish. Her relationships to the multitude of characters are extremely solid. Her eyes give away much of her objective. She makes the most of her time on stage. This is a fine work of art.
Philip Sokoloff has a number of roles in this production. While Investigator MacDonald didn’t do much investigating, the conflict sets the tone for the entire production. He was exceptional as the Guru at the Esalen Institute and as the butler who lets us know that we, as citizens, should really do more that ask into the night “Is anyone theyrrreeeeeee?” especially when there are sound of chaos around us.
Sean Andrews plays Tex Watson and Philip and does some nice work. But there is a reason why Tex is called “Tex” and his Texas drawl needs some serious work.
Rachel Longoria plays Candy and Danielle Motley plays Gypsy who are a small part of the Manson followers along with Samantha Posey as Sunshine who brings them all together.
L. Flint Esquerra does a fantastic job directing this play. While the opening moments need work, the end will have you shaking in your boots. It is a fantastic job by a director who can add one more great body of work to his successful resume. While not all of the objectives are solid by the time things settle down, this is one hell of a show.
Jill Charlotte Thomas has written a play that is stunning. Even the smallest life moments are wonderfully capture with witty dialogue. There are defining moments so enlightening, we become anxious to move on to the next. We know the history, seen the film, read the book but to put this out as a work of fiction is pure imagination at its finest. The scintillating characters are both well defined and confused as they move through life.
The Sound Design/Score was provided by Joseph ‘Sloe’ Slawinski. Set and Lighting Design by Thomas Meleck was fantastic. Costume Design by Rhona Meyers. The Stage Manager was Laura Forst. The Sound Operator was Joe Montiel, The Set Builder was Patricio Amores. The Technical Director was Jason Henderson and the Photography was provided by Irene Hovey.
The lyrics of “Gibby McGoo” was written by Thomas and the delightful music was written by Gabrieal Griego.
Go and while you're at it take a misguided friend.