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BWW Review: SQUEAKY: OLD FLAMES CAN REALLY BURN Offers Five Actors Portraying Different Dimensions of the Troubled Charles Manson Follower

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BWW Review: SQUEAKY: OLD FLAMES CAN REALLY BURN Offers Five Actors Portraying Different Dimensions of the Troubled Charles Manson Follower

SQUEAKY: OLD FLAMES CAN REALLY BURN, written and directed by Brad Forenza, streamed for free as part of the (virtual) Hollywood Fringe 2020 experience on July 5. Originally written as a solo show, the play was re-conceptualized for a socially distanced HFF experience in which five actors played different dimensions of the troubled character. They included Sara Eklund (Manson-era Squeaky), Brad Forenza (2014 Squeaky), Rosie Gunther (Poetic Squeaky), Brooke Hoover (Political Squeaky), and Roberta Lipp (Coffeehouse Squeaky). Tom Pryor appeared as the wedding officiant.

Perhaps you are asking who is Lynette Alice "Squeaky" Fromme, other than one of Charles Manson's notorious followers? She was born in Santa Monica, CA, the daughter of Helen (née Benzinger) and William Millar Fromme, an aeronautical engineer who Fromme describes as a "military tyrant and his submissive mouse of a wife" in the play. As a child, Fromme performed for a popular dance group called the Westchester Lariats, which began touring the United States and Europe in the late 1950s, and appeared on The Lawrence Welk Show and at the White House. All seemed to be going in the right direction during Fromme's childhood.

In 1963 when she was 15, the family moved to Redondo Beach, and Fromme began using alcohol and drugs. Her grades dropped at Redondo Union High School, but she graduated in 1966. She moved out of her parents' house for a few months before her father convinced her to consider attending El Camino College. She returned home for two months before an argument with her father in 1967 (at age 19) rendered her homeless.

After dropping out of college, Fromme went to Venice Beach after her parents had thrown her out of the house. Suffering from depression, she sat on a curb and watched a bus arrive, and Charles Manson exited. Manson stopped and looked at her and said "Your parents threw you out, didn't they?" Fromme immediately decided Manson was a psychic. As he walked away, Fromme picked up her belongings and followed him.

Manson had recently been released from the federal prison at Terminal Island, and Fromme soon became the second member of what would become the Manson Family. Though not involved in the infamous Tate-LaBianca murders for which the Manson family are best known, she staked out a spot outside the courthouse where the guilty family members were being held, telling anyone who would listen that "Charlie was all about love and peace." Her off-kilter behavior and outrageous antics only served to convince the public she was just as crazy as the others. I found myself shaking my head at her misguided devotion to such an evil man, thanks to the often-over-the-top portrayals by the actors.

In 1975, Fromme attempted to assassinate President Gerald Ford because of his lack of regard for "Mother Earth." For that crime, Fromme was sentenced to life in prison, but was paroled on August 14, 2009 after serving approximately 34 years. Since 2014, Fromme has lived in Marcy, New York, with her boyfriend Robert Valdner, who pleaded guilty to a manslaughter charge in 1988. The two lived in a house decorated with skulls.

SQUEAKY: OLD FLAMES CAN REALLY BURN takes place in 2014 at the announced wedding of cult leader Charles Manson and his millennial bride. Squeaky, Manson's chief acolyte and the attempted assassin of Gerald Ford, has crashed the anticipated nuptials to stake her claim. As she holds the wedding guests hostage, she opines about the current state of affairs and the unavailable men in her life: Manson, Ford, and Daddy.

All actors agreed that the success of their performances hinged, in part, on approaching Squeaky from the inside-out. "Everyone thinks they are justified in their thoughts and actions, even if they do bad things and feel guilty about them," noted Roberta Lipp. "As an actor, your job is to convince the audience that your actions are justified, just like you'd try to convince anyone."

One thing for sure - after watching the play and listening to Squeaky during various time periods of her life, I feel even more sorry for the troubled young woman who allowed herself to be so misguided by a man who knew exactly how to manipulate her need to belong somewhere to his own advantage. So much so that in a 2019 televised interview, Fromme said about Manson, "Was I in love with Charlie? Yeah, I still am." One wonders at the sanity of such a statement until you realize how her mind was warped through the use of drugs and mind manipulation.

"But if you don't want to listen, just X us out," Forenza as Squeaky tells us at the end of the play as she paints a large X on her forehead. And for those of us old enough to remember those turbulent times can tell you that symbol was emblazoned on more than just Fromme's forehead during those media-heavy days of the Manson trial.


SQUEAKY: OLD FLAMES CAN REALLY BURN, a story of unrequited love, political fanaticism, and one woman's quest for liberation written and directed by Brad Forenza, streamed live (and for free) via the virtual Hollywood Fringe experience, on Sunday July 5, 2020 (6pm PT / 9pm ET) at https://us02web.zoom.us/j/86392703419


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From This Author Shari Barrett