nytheatre.com review by Ed Malin
April 3, 2013
Joe Gilford's entertaining, balanced, and horrifying play about 1950s Communist Witch Hunts isn't just fiction. The author's parents were among those who were called upon to identify others engaged in Un-American Activities, but chose not to be "finks". This show resonates with the son's remembrances of his proud parents and, in these paranoid days, asks us if we are willing to fight for our rights and freedoms.
Comedian Mickey Dobbs (Aaron Serotsky) is performing at New York's Cafe Society night club, backed up by none other than pianist Meade Lux Lewis (Kenney M. Green) when he is drafted by alluring audience-member Natalie (Miriam Silverman) into doing some charity benefits for progressive causes. These are the kinds of community appearances that will eventually be interpreted as Communist. Mickey, a self-propelled secret Trotskyite who is skeptical of any type of allegiance, soon falls for the married Natalie, who leaves her first husband and marries Mickey. Together they join most of the artistic community in questioning government excesses which seem to go against everything they fought for in the recent war. At the same time, the House Un-American Activities Committee is gathering lists of people who have gone to meetings related to pacifist and racial integration causes and blacklisting them from working in the entertainment industry. When famous director Elia Kazan (Jason Liebman) denounces his former associates, their careers are basically over unless they, in turn, fink on others. Mickey finds a spy (Thomas Lyons) in one of his meetings, but never dreams that just at the point when Natalie is giving birth to their son and he is going to get his own TV comedy show, he will need to "clear himself". Mickey's friend and fellow WWII veteran Fred (Ned Eisenberg) defies the H.U.A.C. by invoking the First Ammendment, and is thrown in jail. Even Natalie's artistic buddy Bobby (Leo Ash Evens) feels compelled to inform on his friends, ostensibly to avoid persecution for being homosexual. Mickey faces a difficult choice: whether to save his career or to follow Natalie's example and maintain silence.
The list of those who were blacklisted starts with Ring Lardner, Jr., Gale Sondergaard, Zero Mostel, Paul Robeson, and is so large it was published regularly in book form.
The seriousness of this piece is very well complemented by topical humor (does Jimmy Durante's nose make him a Jew? if they start letting Quakers into nightclubs they'll need to let in everyone...) plus charming jazz music and the steamy romance between Mickey and Natalie. The cast are very fast on their feet, often changing roles and settings in a split-second. Director Giovanna Sardelli splits up the onstage action into the nightclub or home area and the H.U.A.C. hearings area (sets tastefully designed by Jason Simms). Characters are rapidly drawn from the safety of the former to the dangerous realm of the latter, replete with 1950s-style flash bulb effects that startle everyone. Sydney Maresca's costumes are spot-on, particularly for those too-cool dance numbers choreographed by Greg Graham.
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