It is not hard to find parallels to the current political climate in Joe Gilford’s drama, FINKS, about America’s Red Scare of the 1950s. Based on the playwright’s parents, Madeline and Jack Gilford, FINKS depicts the trials of being blacklisted and standing up for yours beliefs from a very intimate perspective. Recent movies like Trumbo and Hail, Caesar! have begun to explore the impact of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) had on the film industry of the 1950s. What has not been considered as much is the similar problems faced in the New York Theater scene.
FINKS is a deep dive into the thoughts and emotions of New York’s actors, comics, writers, dancers and producers. Although not ideal for someone without a basic understanding of the problem, the show is well written and excellently performed, another must-see historical play from TheatreWorks.
The show cleverly cuts between the courtroom and the love story of burgeoning comic Mickey Dobbs (Jim Stanek) and actress Natalie Meltzer (Donna Vivino). The opening scene cuts together court testimony and Mickey’s comedy act in such a brilliant way that the audience is immediately immersed into the social and political climate of the era. As the two characters come together, Dobbs also becomes more and more involved in Natalie’s world of liberal meetings and rallies. However, the ever-mounting threat of HUAC and the blacklisting make it hard to find work, straining their relationship with each other and all those they care about. Eventually, each character is forced to choose whether they’re going to stand up for what they believe in or “fink” and report the names of their friends and loved ones to HUAC in the courtroom.
While both leads share the spotlight, it’s Donna Vivino who steals the show. Almost constantly on stage, she sings, dances and acts, throwing her heart into the energetic and passionate character. At one point she performs a song that perfectly sums up her character, “Sing Me a Song with Social Significance,” before immediately diving into a particularly emotionally resonant scene. The breadth and intensity of her performance makes both her character and the show as a whole sparkle.
This show isn’t necessarily a good introduction to the complexities and issues of HUAC and the early 50s, but it isn’t designed to be either. This is a very character-driven study of what happened to everyday people in the entertainment industry. The largest statement the play makes is “I think about what won’t be done—all the plays that won’t be written, all the talent that won’t be discovered. What a waste.” This underscores the feeling FINKS leaves you with, sadness at what might have been. All that could have been created had the Red Scare not happened, or at least not affected the movie, TV and theater communities so disproportionately.
TheatreWorks’ production of FINKS is now playing at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro Street, Mountain View. Tickets range from $40 - $100 with discounts available for educators, seniors, groups and patrons 35 and under. The show runs just over two hours with one intermission.
Photos Courtesy of Kevin Berne