An unholy trinity of psychotic egomaniacs come together on a freezing night in a roadside honky-tonk in 29 Palms, Calif., get drunk on Bud and Jack and start boot-scootin' around the floor to a two-step rhythm. This chance meeting will set off a shocking chain of events, including several mass murders and an attempted presidential assassination.
The lethal trio are, of course, Charles Manson (Mitchell Parrack), Squeaky Fromme (Anastasia Munoz) and Tex Watson (Matthew Posey), igniting each other's violent mania and singing about it in Mean, a musical about the birth of the Manson family cult, written and directed by Posey, at The Ochre House. As the evening unfolds in the dingy joint, the cocky singer Dale Evans (the flying Justin Locklear) and the Hell Raisers crank out original country-rock and funny obscene ditties like "A Monkey Full of Cocoanut" and "Six Pack."
Parrack's Charles Manson is bone-thin and obsessive. Unsmiling and determined, he keeps grabbing the mike from Dale to sing his grim songs about visions of coffins and an apocalyptic race war on the horizon. There's something chilling and reptilian in Parrack's unblinking stare, when he tells the weary one-eyed barkeep (Kevin Grammer), "I'm more real than you." Manson's intensity attracts a latecomer to the joint, a thin young woman, a delinquent runaway he nicknames Squeaky because she squeals when he grabs her ass.
Munoz 's Squeaky Fromme has a reed-liked suppleness that bends to whatever man grabs hold of her. Swaying easily to the music in the embrace of Manson or Watson, her sexiness springs from her utter surrender. She never presses back—she's all give. Squeaky 's plainly drawn to vicious older men who tell her what to do. And she's thrilled when she sidles up to the big guy at the bar in boots and a straw Stetson.
Posey's Tex Watson is downright menacing. Smiling, handsome and on the lookout for an easy buck, he's a good dancer and a natural born psychopath. He's unpredictable because even he doesn't know what he's going to do next. "Maybe rob this bar," he speculates when asked about his plans. A lady-killer, both metaphorically and literally, the barflies swarm him and he reciprocates. Watson enjoys murder so much he feels a surge of tenderness for his victim. In an astonishingly macabre and telling scene, Watson carefully covers the head and hair of the barkeep's terrified wife (Delilah Buitron) with a plastic bag, and drags her around the dance floor in a close embrace as he suffocates her. Ritual murder has got to be right up this guy's alley.
Other characters wander in and out of the bar—all weirdoes barely operating on the fringe of the society that has no place for them. Elizabeth Evans and Dante Martinez, two terrific actors who starred in Ochre House's hit play about Frida Kahlo, are hilarious and pathetic as a bitter husband and wife act. A drunken indian and part-time shaman (Cyndee Rivera) and his cowboy grandson (Trenton Stephenson) take the stage briefly, and everybody fills the floor for the dance numbers and strobe-lit brawls that crowd the small stage space periodically.
The tight staging of the show puts the audience right at the edge of the dance floor. (Keep your legs under your seat in the front rows.) Big theaters shift their entire inner structures around for a restaging. Posey simply moves the bar at the entrance to the middle of the theater, shifts the folding chairs, and—presto!—a whole new arena is created with the band in the rear and the actors entering and exiting through the same front door that the audience uses to enter the theater from outside. At Friday's opening, it was a chilly night, too; you could feel the breeze!
I'll give this to Posey and company: they don't flinch. This is a compelling production, spooky in its implications about the nature of evil, particularly in the startling final tableau. The singer sums it up: Charlie did the thinking, Tex did the killing and Squeaky cheered them on. They also serve who only stand and cheer. Right? Shiver.