Even almost a half-century after the killings committed by the infamous Manson Family in the summer of 1969, these murders and their perpetrators continue to haunt the popular mind. How could seemingly ordinary people be convinced to commit such horrible acts? You Are Perfect, a show put on by the White Horse Theater Company currently running in the Toronto Fringe Festival at the Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace, aims to provide at least some answers to this vexing question.
You Are Perfect, written by playwright Cyndy A. Marion, is built around Susan Atkins, one of the three young women who were put on trial with Charlie Manson for the infamous Tate and Labianca killings. The first person to start telling stories about the killings, she was briefly a witness for the prosecution, even testifying against the Manson Family before a grand jury before deciding to renounce her testimony and deny that Manson had any responsibility.
The play imagines the night before her testimony at trial, when Susan Atkins meets with a woman from a prison outreach program who wants to talk to Atkins about her testimony. What will she say? Even as the mysterious woman tries to convince Atkins to tell the truth, Atkins remains haunted by her past, and by the man who she claimed she was willing to kill for.
This play is anchored by the strong performance of Lindsay Danielle Gitter as the young Susan Atkins. At once brave and vulnerable, bold and timid, Gitter does a wonderful job of portraying the sort of desperate passion and hunger for love that could convince a person to become complicit with terrible people and worse acts, the sort that could trap a person even after it became clear that that no good could come with it.
Kristin Samuelson, playing the careful, compassionate Woman who is trying to prevent Atkins from ruining what remains of her future with false testimony, is a compelling presence in Atkins’ compact cell. So too is Alexander Reed, who portrays Charlie Manson, seguing convincingly from the sort of man who could believably profess unconditional appreciation and love to a quietly threatening sort one would feel compelled to follow for fear of anger, or worse.
Technically, You Are Perfect is a well-constructed play. Set designer Ruth Albertyn has constructed a set that very convincingly evokes a claustrophobic high-security prison cell, while the costumes provided by Derek Nye Lockwood were also compelling, the careful conservative clothing of Samuelson’s Woman fitting that character as well as the cowboy-themed costume of Manson fit his.
Ably directed by Rhys J. McClelland, You Are Perfect moves swiftly from its start to its inevitable conclusion. If there is a fault in the show, it would be with its ending. Towards the end, You Are Perfect switches tone somewhat, from a seemingly strict realism to something else. While this transition worked for me, I can imagine other people taking issue with it.
You Are Perfect is a play that offers a convincing study of humanity in dire conditions, both in a descent into despair and in a slow recovery from a painful nadir. The strong performances of this show’s cast, and the bravery of the script, mean that this show deserves attention from audiences.
- You Are Perfect is playing until July 15 at the Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace. (16 Ryerson Avenue)
- Tickets are $12. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Fringe Club at Scadding Court, and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
- Be advised that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and latecomers are never admitted. To avoid disappointment, be sure to arrive a few minutes before curtain.
- This venue is wheelchair-accessible.
- July 7th at 1:45 pm
- July 8th at 9:15 pm
- July 10th at 5:00 pm
- July 11th at 8:00 pm
- July 12th at 3:30 pm
- July 14th at 11:00 pm
- July 15th at 8:45 pm
Photo of Kristin Samuelson, Alexander Reed and Lindsay Danielle Gitter by John Robert Hoffman.