Rogue Machine, known for its mission to present original and provocative programming, is now presenting the West Coast premiere production of FINKS, bringing together writer Joe Gilford and director Michael Pressman, friends since childhood and both children of Blacklisted artists.
In it, Gilford documents the struggle his parents, entertainers Jack Gilford and Madeline Lee Gilford, endured when they were called to testify, with actual testimony or published statements by those who appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee used in the play.
“Finks” centers on Mickey Dobbs (French Stewart), a comic on the verge of TV stardom who meets Natalie Meltzer (Vanessa Claire Stewart), a left-wing actress/activist who gathers friends in support of changing the way democracy was splitting America based on wealth. And if you think about it, even to this day many of their arguments for socialized medicine and equal rights still make media headlines and split public opinion. But in the 1950s, those who spoke out for such things were seen a subversive to our government and labelled communists.
As Mickey and Natalie’s romance blossoms, so does their risk of being blacklisted for their political activities. As the play progresses, The House Un-American Activities Committee, tasked with exposing communist subversion, conducted hearings which led to more than 300 directors, actors, radios personalities, and screenwriters boycotted by studios.
Often told on a split set designed by Stephanie Kerley Schwartz, testimony to the committee is given on one side, offset by action taking place in society on the other, be it in the bar where Mickey works on his material or the “communist” meetings which Natalie organizes with her closeted and soon to be ex-husband Bobby Gerard (Adam Lebowitz-Lockard), a dancer who knows being exposed as a gay man will end his career.
Actors in the ensemble, including Stephen Tyler Howell, Matt Gottlieb, Bruce Nozick, Daniel Dorr, and Thomas Fiscella, take on many striking roles with real backbone, allowing us to feel the stress under which each was forced to live while fearing for their life and career.
Throughout the play, Richard Levinson portrays Dickie Lewis, the bar’s Piano Man, whose tickling of the ivories sets the bluesy mood of the time period to perfection.
“Finks” runs through Dec. 30, at 8 p.m. Fridays, 3 p.m. Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays). Rogue Machine performances take place at the Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice. Tickets are $40. Reservations: 855-585-5185 or at www.roguemachinetheatre.com. Free onsite parking.