As Thomas tells it, Folger's wealthy mother (Kathleen Coyne), a liberal do-gooder, volunteers at a drug rehabilitation center in Haight-Asbury at the height of the hippie influx and rashly decides to throw a party in her home for her clients, including Manson (Tyson Turrou). He manages to so charm and impress her that she enlists him to persuade her erring, drug-addled daughter Abigail (Ivy Khan) to come home. His curiosity piqued, Manson seeks out Abigail, and soon they're embarked on a hedonistic drug-soaked affair. Simultaneously, Manson is recruiting his band of misfits and hippies and indoctrinating them into his far-fetched plans. He wants to foment a race war in which interracial conflicts will escalate until the black population destroys the white ruling class. Then, he says, the blacks will be too stupid to govern, paving the way for him and his little band to take over and rule the world.
This might provide the playwright with rich dramatic gold if she really examined what it was in Manson that enabled him to persuade his followers to go along with his mad ideas and what made them susceptible. But for much of the play both the man and his flock seem nutty but harmless. When he says, "Nobody really dies. Killing people is only liberating them to unite with the universe," his acolytes just exclaim, "Groovy!" There's no hint of the witches brew of class resentment, anger, frustration, and hatred that seems to have driven them to perpetrate their bloody horrors. Only a couple of later scenes reveal the rage and paranoia that drove Manson and give us a credible glimpse of the monster he became.
Thomas spreads her tale across a broad canvas, employing more than 15 characters on Thomas Meleck's huge multilevel set, which is decorated with decoupages of newspaper headlines from the period. Director L. Flint Esquerra's production is brisk and faithful, but "California Dreamin' " needs serious editing to eliminate unnecessary plot strands and zero in on its core issues.
Presented by and at the Met Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Hollywood. Feb. 10–March 11. Thu.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. (Sun., Feb. 19, performance is at 7 p.m.) (800) 838-3006 or www.brownpapertickets.com.