Brad Forenza’s play “Squeaky” takes the term “captive audience” quite literally. It opens with a lone figure entering from the back of the theater dressed in an American flag head wrap, red fitted pants, and a finger rifle poking under a camouflage t-shirt. In an unflinching stare-down, the stranger unleashes a rapid-fire list of grievances; she is mad about the state of the country’s environment, mad at that “media whore” Patty Hearst, but most of all she is mad that her beloved Charlie is betrothed to a vapid millennial. Enter Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme on Charles Manson’s wedding day.
Although the encounter is fictional, it is based on the true crime darling Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, a member of the “Manson Family,” the disciples of criminal cult leader Charles Manson. Squeaky was never connected to the Manson family’s 1969 “Helter Skelter” massacre of Sharon Tate, and Leno and Rosemary LaBianca; however, she and other followers camped outside the courthouse during Manson’s trial proclaiming his innocence, and loudly preaching his apocalyptic theories. Fromme gained her own notoriety after her 1975 assassination attempt of Gerald Ford during his trip to Capitol Park in Sacramento, California. “It was about the redwood trees,” she says, claiming to be an environmentalist. “Besides, the gun wasn’t even loaded.”
“Have you ever been in love?” Forenza, the play’s writer and star, poses this question and others, as Squeaky tells the story of her love-at-first-sight meeting with Charles Manson, her induction into his family, and her consummate struggle to find her voice. We catch glimpses of Fromme’s childhood in a series of “Lynette” vignettes; Lynette at age six being ignored by her father, Lynette at age twelve breaking out of an ensemble of dancers and performing a solo to “Three Blind Mice,” Lynette at age eighteen standing up to her father, then fleeing her family home in Redondo Beach, California. These flashbacks are interwoven with comical pen-pal letters to her incarcerated Manson Family sisters, with whom she becomes increasingly irritated for not answering her letters. Between these stops and starts are political rants, declarations of love, and optimistic utterings about a “garden in the desert.”
Forenza’s portrayal of Squeaky Fromme is a bit too…if you’ll pardon the pun, squeaky. If you’ve seen the real Fromme in interviews her façade is more understated, while brimming with a subtler rage underneath. When you’re on the road going from zero to sixty, and you’ve already hit sixty, there is no place left to go. Forenza’s Squeaky is past overdrive.
The play itself seems to be an ambitious undertaking weighed down by far too many variables; it’s hard to know which thread to follow. The storytelling is frenetic in places, but soars in the quiet moments when the character envisions an unrealized Utopia. Those are the moments where both character and creator shine with beautifully crafted poetic passages that are heartfelt and earth-shattering.
I believe there is more to the story of Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, but this play only scratches the surface. I must confess that when I left the theater, I wondered what Lynette at age sixty-nine is doing. I guess I have Mr. Forenza to thank for that.
“Squeaky: Old Flames Can Really Burn” Written and Performed by Brad Forenza Sept. 30 at 7:30pm Co-Producers & Consultants: Shane Bordeau, Brian Dashew, Mike Folie, Roberta Lipp, and Jo Walker Photo: courtesy of the production United Solo 2018 Theatre Row 410 West 42nd Street New York City
KIA STANDARD is a writer and musical theater performer, who has appeared in regional and international productions of “West Side Story,” “The King and I”, “Little Shop of Horrors,” and “Bubbling Brown Sugar.” She received an MA in Creative Writing/Nonfiction from The Johns Hopkins University, and has published articles and profiles for various talent magazines. Ms. Standard is currently working as a musical playwright.