The Story

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“Charlie!”, is based on the true story of the murder of a young man, Charlie Howard, who, in the 1980s dared to be out as gay. With gay-bashing an accepted norm, especially among teens, Charlie was a clear target and was murdered by three teenagers. In “Charlie!”, one of his murderers, Rob (based on the real-life Jim Baines), seeks to come to terms with what he has done — what drove him to murder a gay man. The teenager made eye contact with Charlie as he tossed him into the river. Charlie’s eyes haunt him. The story shows how he and Charlie, as a ghost, come to see the humanity in the other.

Kendukeag River

Kenduskeag River contained by concrete walls, Bangor, Maine.

Act 1, “The Mess,” begins with Charlie, a ghost, viewing the trial of his three murderers—all teenagers. In this scene, the atmosphere of the 1980s—Reagan’s era, the first years of AIDS, the unquestioned scorning of gays in public—is recreated along with actual testimony from, and the tempestuous nature of, the trial. Charlie is told by an angel that before he can move on, he must follow and listen to one of the boys, to come to a place of forgiveness. Charlie resists at first, but relents and follows Rob.

Act 2, “Rehabilitation” is set at the Maine Youth Center where Rob denies at first what he has done and then begins to accept responsibility. Charlie watches as Rob struggles to face his incarceration and his crime, while finding opportunities to introduce himself and aspects of his life to the audience. This includes representation of gay life in the 1980s, in Bangor, Maine, when men met secretively on Middle Street, bringing to light the struggle of gay men to find one another.

In Act 3, “ Remembering” Charlie and Rob relive the night of the murder—and, in part, what led up to it. At a community dance, we meet Alice “The girl in the car” who witnessed the murder, and Rob reveals his need to prove that he is a man. The larger forces that conspired to bring Charlie and Rob together are shown in several songs. The super-macho life of young teens is also shown. In the community dance, it is made clear through the use of humor that, straight or gay, social forces can make life difficult. The songs mirror the music of the time as the two countervailing voices play off against one another.

In Act 4, “The Murder” is reenacted with the river playing a major role sealing the fate of Charlie and Rob. In these final moments, the two of them discover, even in the most violent of encounters, they have the capacity to see one another and move beyond hate to forgiveness—an act of grace.