"The thing about Jen Danby's interesting and provocative new play in her Sharon Tate trilogy, "Charlie and Sharon," created with Daniel Delano, is that you walk in armed with almost too much knowledge about the characters, Charles Manson and Sharon Tate. No one who lived through that awful August in 1969 will ever forget the headlines, and the very thought of that incident still makes us shudder. So, you walk into the theater saying what else can they tell us? Is there anything, after all the books and reporting, especially Helter Skelter (both in print and the film), more we can learn? The answer is plenty.
For Danby and Delano brilliantly take a contrarian approach to the characters from what one might expect or imagine. If you are going to this play to learn about the gore of the night of the murder, forget it. This is on another level entirely, and a fascinating one. As in her previous one-woman show "Sharon Tate in Heaven," the first part of this trilogy that has played in New York and Los Angeles, Danby gives a well-rounded and deeply emotional look at Tate the woman, not Tate the starlet. In that play, she gave us a young actress who we could understand, relate to, even love...a subtle way of showing what Manson had taken from the people who loved her, and her many fans.
This show adds something potent: the character of Manson himself. Told in four scenes starting with soon after the murders and then evolving to present day, we see Tate as she was the day she died, but with Manson, we see him age and finally soften. Played by a wonderful young actor named Daniel Delano, Manson is every bit as nutty and askew as history books and interviews have portrayed him (you see those vacant Manson eyes), but we see moments of utter rage, we see almost a self-hatred coming to light, we witness denial and more denial and then...bang. Sharon finally, as we have been on the edge of our seats for, asks the big question: why? Why did he murder her and her child?
I will not give away his answer, but let me say that it spins out in a direction I would never have guessed, and that is wonderful theatre--the expected question, but an unexpected, satisfying, moving answer that leaves you looking back over the entire short evening with scrutiny, to discover some of the answers to Sharon's big question have already been answered, sometimes in physical ways. It is a complex piece, and those expecting something on the surface should stay home. The play has resonance.
Danby and Delano have done a beautiful job crafting this wonderful show, and the famed Austin Pendleton has done a skillful job directing it, with Delano giving it an energy of one of the great mass murderers of our time. And Danby, so appealing as Tate, has a marvelous quiet power that holds everything together, making you feel her loss deep within, a beautiful piece of acting that you won't soon forget. Kudos to all.
What I can't stop thinking about, days after seeing it, is the levels it touches, the depth it has, the reach that goes well beyond the headlines. It is a short play, only about 100 minutes I think, but the magic it produces certainly gives credence to the old saying that great gifts come in small packages.