Here's how small the Ochre House theater is: When the actors in Mean, Matthew Posey's new musical about Charlie Manson, enter and exit, they use the front door of the place. A whoosh of wind comes in off the sidewalk on Exposition Avenue as actors two-step through the audience in the show's first big number.
Not having "wings" or a proper stage gives Mean, set in a dive bar in the California desert in 1969, an extra touch of atmospheric authenticity. The whole space of this storefront 40-seat theater has been turned into the bar. When two characters come through that door announcing that their truck has crapped out, you can almost smell the burning engine oil and you half expect them to turn to you and ask for a ride.
Posey and his company, Balanced Almond Productions, have themselves quite the chilling little show here. Written and directed by Posey, who also co-stars as Charles "Tex" Watson, Mean imagines a night when the stars align to bring together three borderline personalities who would go on to commit heinous crimes together.
On an open mike night at the White Horse Inn, Charlie (played by rail-thin Mitchell Parrack) sees himself as the next Bob Dylan or Jim Morrison, and keeps trying to take the stage to sing his original songs about race wars and Satan. Tex, just out of prison, wants to get drunk and maybe steal the cash out of the register. A stringy redhead named Lynette Fromme (Anastasia Munoz) flirts with both men and acquires the nickname "Squeaky" for the squeal she emits whenever they squeeze her behind.
As the affable honky-tonk band leader (Justin Locklear) tries to keep the show going - the original rockabilly-meets-Doors music is surprisingly catchy - Charlie and his new pals seem intent on harshing the mellow. Things turn ugly. Throats are cut.
Posey's shows are often a mix of low humor, high art, shocking violence and provocative themes. In Mean, we are reminded how the Manson Family murders of 1969 ended what had been called the "Summer of Love." The show plays out like a prequel to Helter Skelter.
The acting is chillingly good in this show, particularly Posey, who sings in a gravelly Johnny Cash growl and dances a ghostly waltz with a woman (Delilah Buitron) he's just strangled. Parrack's eyes as Charlie Manson are so cold and dark, you'll think that someone's forgotten to shut that front door.
For original work that will haunt your dreams for days after, see Mean.
Mean continues through March 10 at the Ochre House. Call 214-826-6273 or go to www.ochrehousetheater.com.