“FINKS” – Would YOU Name Names?

I wish I could say that Finks, opening this week at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, was just an historically interesting play. It’s not.  It’s a current and frightening portrait of what might happen next week.

Written by playwright and screenwriter Joe Gilford, this comedic drama was inspired by the real-life experiences of his parents, Jack and Madeline Lee Gilford, actors who were blacklisted during the McCarthy era communism “Red Scare”, one of the more shameful times in America’s history.  The play was a Drama Desk Best Play nominee for its production in New York at the Ensemble Studio Theater in the spring of 2013.


Jack and Madeline Gilford in 1949. Courtesy of Joe Gilford

The playwright Joe Gilford, from a New York Times article in 2013:

“[m]y parents were blacklisted in the 1950s and were unable to work in television and film for almost a decade. . .

Their experiences with the blacklist drove me to write Finks, named for those who informed to the House Un-American Activities Committee. . . The cast has eight actors, who take on 15 roles, including actual figures like the director Elia Kazan and the actor Lee J. Cobb. While I fictionalized my parents’ characters, I used actual Congressional testimony and public statements for some of their real-life counterparts. One character is based on the choreographer Jerome Robbins. Although many of the events depicted in the play are factual — he was a friend of my mother’s, she did teach him the Lindy dance, and he did name her and seven others to the committee — I chose to use fiction to build the drama of the play . . .

We all recalled clearly a dark and fearful time — a decade, even two, spent scrambling to survive rather than acting or creating plays, television and movies. The pain and loss were a complete waste. Totally unnecessary.”

Director Giovanna Sardelli, who directed the 2013 run of Finks in New York as well as the upcoming TheatreWorks production, said that after the last ovation ended a performance in New York some people would stay in their seats and there would be an impromptu discussion among audience members — older folks who had personal memories and stories of how those times affected them and younger ones who wanted to hear and understand more.  Giovanna said she sometimes came back to the theatre specifically to hear those discussions since the New York theatre community was so directly and widely affected by the House UnAmerican Activities Committee that this happened almost every night.  She shares my wish that this play was just of historical interest — it feels scarily pertinent right now.  It is an important example of how political groupthink and unchecked governmental insertion into personal freedoms and beliefs can so very quickly change our fragile democracy into something we do not want it to be. Just this week, a man was hired to work in the White House (as NSA Chief of Staff) who during the Obama administration called for “a new House Un-American Activities Committee” to investigate Muslim extremists infiltrating the government. Chilling.

I would like to end with a quote from Rex Tillerson (I know!), from a graduation speech to military grads on May 16, 2018 at Virginia Military Institute:

If our leaders seek to conceal the truth, or we as people become accepting of alternative realities that are no longer grounded in facts, then we as American citizens are on a pathway to relinquishing our freedom.

Actor Leo Ash Evans trying on his costume as Bobby the choreographer (alter ego to Jerome Robbins)

Actor Leo Ash Evens trying on his costume as Bobby the choreographer (alter ego to Jerome Robbins)

Please go and see this important play.

Plus you get to see Leo Ash Evens and Donna Vivino dance the Lindy!

For tickets go to theatreworks.org.  Playing at Mountain View Center for Performing Arts June 6 – July 1.



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