The dictionary defines “fink” when used as a noun as “an unpleasant or contemptible person” while when used as a verb it can mean “inform on to the authorities”. Both definitions fit the characters who fink their friends to HUAC, the House Un-American Activities Committee in Joe Gildord’s play Finks, presented by Rogue Machine at the Electric Lodge in Venice. Elia Kazan, Budd Schulberg, Lee J. Cobb and Martin Berkely were among those that named names of fellow attendees at meetings of groups now deemed sympathetic to the Communist Party in order to salvage their blacklisted careers. An actual “blacklist” never existed because it would have been illegal.
Unlike Eric Bentley’s play Are You Now or Have You Ever Been, which consisted of dialogue taken from transcripts of testimony before the Committee, Gilford’s Finks deals mostly with fictional characters except for the above mentioned real life finks. HUAC ran rampant in Hollywood in the late 1940’s, sending the “Hollywood 10” to prison among other deeds. In 1952, the Committee moved to New York to look into subversive influences in radio and television. The networks and sponsors created Red Channels, a list of people cleared to work. In Gilford’s play, standup comic Mickey Dobbs (French Stewart) runs afoul of the Committee when his agent gets him his own network TV show like Milton Berle and Sid Caesar. Dobbs got involved in the movement through the actions of his best friend Fred (Bruce Nozick) and girlfriend Natalie (Vanessa Claire Stewart) who get him to perform at some events for their left-leaning group. Fred goes to jail for refusing to name names while Natalie and Mickey marry and await their own call to testify. They are finked out by Natalie’s best friend, the closeted gay choreographer Bobby (Adam Lebowitz-Lockard).
Gilford, along with director Michael Pressman, are both children of blacklisted parents so the material has a deeper resonance for them and it shows both in the clever and detailed writing and in the polished direction of the show. The two Stewarts (real life husband and wife) have great chemistry but also really plumb the depths of their characters to create flesh and blood victims of one of the darkest periods in America’s history. The supporting players (Stephen Tyler Howell, Matt Gottlieb, Daniel Dorr, Thomas Fiscella) doing multiple roles create a true ensemble. Richard Levinson is The Piano Man, providing accompaniment to the few musical interludes.
Rich in period detail, Finks is also a work that is very relevant to the current political climate in the country. If you know about the “blacklist” or if you don’t, you should see Finks.
Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave. in Venice. Ends Dec. 30. https://www.roguemachinetheatre.net/