Leslie Newton, Gabrielle Taurek
The facts are a bit murky, but it is possible that in 1973, Dr. Timothy Leary and Charles Manson were confined at a California correctional facility at the same time. What if these two, the yin and the yang of the age of “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll,” actually were housed in adjoining cells?
This possible “melding of the minds” between the cerebral Harvard professor-turned-psychedelic guru and the demonically poetic leader of the murderous Manson family is the leaping-off point for Tim D. Riel’s “multimedia psychoactive dreamscape play.”
It’s no contest. As developed by Riel, the laser-sharp, non-apologetic directness of Manson (Gill Gayle) completely dominates the self-justifying philosophical ramblings of Leary (Bill Moseley). When Manson talks, Leary listens. When Leary talks, Manson uses the urinal.
Director Mick Collins stages this confrontation with all the accoutrements of a 1960s rock concert, including psychedelic light show and pulsating rock ‘n’ roll.
It’s all window dressing for what is essentially a two-person play, punctuated by the occasional outbursts of a black prison guard (Jay Arlen Jones) , and a Greek chorus composed of Manson followers Tex Watson (Keith Brunsmann) and the Family (Lili Barsha, Bettina Jorja, Leslie Newton and Gabrielle Taurek).
Following an opening dance-of-death re-enactment of Sharon Tate’s murder, erotically staged by choreographer Tanya Hinkel, Timothy and Charlie settle into their relationship of confinement. Their cells separated by a thick stone wall, they cannot see one another but they can talk. Through a sea of words they court , accuse, console and berate each other, justifying their places in history.
Gill Gayle embodies the percussive, rhythmically hypnotic countenance of Manson. He leaps, slithers and glides about his cell, always on guard, yet continuously on the attack. What is lacking is any sense of emotional balance. Manson never comes down from his drug-fried vocal perch. At times, this makes an already un-equal verbal battle seem downright brutal.
Bill Moseley’s much-too-youthful Timothy Leary is totally lost in the fray. Leary is portrayed as an insecure pedant who doesn’t believe what he’s saying as he says it. It is with a sense of embarrassment that he limps through such lines as, “What I had in mind was to teach people to avoid leaders and direct their own lives.”
The inclusion of Jay Arlen Jones’ prison guard to give voice to black consciousness is more intrusive than useful, despite Jones’ passionate delivery. The Family members are much more effective when they move than when they talk.
One interesting interruption of the Timothy/Charlie confrontation is a video flashback of an early meeting between Leary and Harvard professor Dr. McClelland (John Steppling). Adam Soch’s inventive video design is effective in conjunction with the set and lighting designs of P. Anthony Lauro and Sean Forrester, respectively.