I recently had the opportunity to see a stunning one-act play, Wild Son: The Testimony of Christian Brando, at Santa Monica Playhouse with a riveting performance by actor John Mese. The show runs through Sunday, May 26th, and I can't recommend it highly enough.
It was written and directed by Champ Clark, a longtime journalist at People Magazine, and author (Shuffling to Ignominy: The Tragedy of Stepin Fetchit, detailing the career of the first African-American film star). Champ also happens to be a songwriter, memoirist and the proud father of a 23-year-old daughter. Last December, he penned a personal essay for RogerEbert.com about his love of Shirley Temple movies, and how they have made him less lonely around the holidays. It's such a beautiful piece that searingly makes you feel the weight of loneliness, abandonment, longing, and how films can help alleviate some of those feelings. In "Brando," although the words are those of Christian, you are also taken surprisingly into a world of loneliness, abandonment and longing, that one wouldn't have expected of a scion of Marlon Brando. Or perhaps one would.
In the program for his new play, Champ noted that he had met Christian Brando in 2005, a year after his father, the game-changing acting icon, Marlon Brando, had died. A friendship sprang from their meeting, and eventually Christian agreed to Champ's request for an interview about his life. "Christian was pleased because—despite his parentage and his own time in the news—no one had ever asked him to tell his story," Champ wrote. "Over a period of months, Christian and I would get together at his small Hollywood apartment and hang. I'd bring my tape recorder and ask him questions. Christian would answer. This play is based on those taped interviews."
Associate produced by Kay Foster and starring acclaimed actor John Mese in the title role, this 59-minute one-man show enables Christian, who died in 2008 of pneumonia, to offer his own perspective on the controversy that led his life to become paralyzed by scandals. He pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter in the fatal 1990 shooting of Dag Drollet, the fiancé of Christian's half-sister Cheyenne, with whom she was expecting a child. She later committed suicide. Christian ended up serving five years of a 10-year prison sentence, and later became entangled with actor Robert Blake's (star of "Baretta") wife, Bonnie Lee Bakley, who was murdered in 2001. But most of the play concentrates on Christian's life with (and in the absence of) his famous father, and tells of the dysfunction that was only hinted at in headlines. You get to hear it from "the horse's mouth."
John Mese keeps your rapt attention from beginning to end. Although he doesn't fully look like Christian, he was cast because he has the same coloring and qualities—danger/sexiness/vulnerability—that Champ had seen in his friend. Champ has told me that a couple of people who knew Christian have come to the play, including attorney Robert Shapiro, who defended Christian when his client was charged with the murder of Dag Drollet, and they all have approved.
Needless to say, this play is mightily intense.
To purchase tickets for Wild Son: The Testimony of Christian Brando, click here.