Toronto Fringe Review: Charles Manson and Timothy Leary at Folsom Prison – Tarragon

By Dana Lacey


Picture two beds, split into separate cells by masking tape and imagination. In one, Timothy Leary, the self-proclaimed philosopher and LSD messiah, is spending his first day in jail. In the other: Charles Manson, the notorious jailbird that conspired several LSD-inspired murders. They talk, they laugh, they scream obscenities. This is (based on a) true story.

Charles Manson and Timothy Leary at Folsom Prison–playing at Tarragon Theatre–imagines the meeting of two megalomaniacal minds in 1973’s Folsom Prison, of Johnny Cash fame. Manson reportedly told Leary “I have been waiting years to meet you.” Leary, who believed the cure for all human neuroses, and for crime itself, was to change the way people think and numb them from their primitive survival instincts. LSD was the quickest way to achieve this desired numbness…except it keeps coming back to haunt him.

Leary doesn’t know who his neighbour is at first (those imaginary walls have vents for sound, but no windows.) “Are you a psychologist?” “You could say that.” “Would I know your work?” “Well, I am the most famous man in the world.” They banter drugs and guilt and responsibility . Leary blames Manson for killing a movement he started by giving LSD a bad rap. Manson blames Leary for telling kids to leave home and join the revolution, where the only thing that faces them is a life of pain on the streets. He asks, what about the LSD-soaked kids throwing themselves out windows? Compare it to suicides at Harvard, Leary says, “Any exploration of the brain is a trigger for despair.”

I know I shouldn’t type these words into the black hole of the interweb, but I loved Charles Manson. Peter McLaren played the part perfectly (maybe it helps that he’s also the playwright.) It’s Manson as redneck guru, you get the sense that the greasy hair and gap-tooth smile are hiding truths the world should know, if only they’d just shut up and listen. His goofy laughs and innocent-old-me act made him the perfect conman: I found myself instantly drawn in by his charisma. The best comedy came from short cameos by Dylan Gott , the cheery prisoner who brings Leary his letters and delivers the big, final truth.  I was less impressed with Rick Jon Egan who seemed too young as a middle-aged Leary. He stumbled over lines and took a while to fall into his role, and was only saved by the fierce dynamic the two shared once McLaren’s Manson walked onstage. From then on, the dialogue is tight, funny and lets you decide on your own who the hero is.

Photo by Dana Lacey


Director: Jenny Salisbury
Cast: Rick Jonegan, Peter McLaren
Audience: Mature Audience
Warning: Mature Content, Language

60 min.
Fri, July 3 8:45 PM
Sat, July 4 1:45 PM
Sun, July 5 3:00 PM
Mon, July 6 10:15 PM
Wed, July 8 5:45 PM
Sat, July 11 12:30 PM
Sun, July 12 7:30 PM

– All individual Fringe tickets are $10 at the door (cash only), or with interac and credit at the advance ticket box office at the Fringe Club (292 Brunswick Ave)

Advance tickets are available by phone (416-966-1062) or at, there is a $2 service charge for these

– Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 5 shows