In 2018, the year of high-energized Donald Trump politics, for many, it is becoming far easier to perceive a delineation between Fascism and Democracy. In the case of Finks, Rogue Machine Theatre‘s Drama Desk nominated, West Coast premiere production which brings together writer Joe Gilford and director Michael Pressman (both children of blacklisted artists), starring real-life partners French and Vanessa Claire Stewart, history now strongly bears a certain retrospective correlation of how standing up for your fellow-man can lead to congressional level politics. Finks, puts such a modern stamp on a previous time in America that is being paralleled to a nuclear degree by our current own. It’s a modern day Crucible.
Where Arthur Miller’s The Crucible took McCarthy’s witch hunt and condemned it for what it was, Finks holds the mirror up to our current age of #FakeNews and ‘justified’ caging of ‘dangerous immigrants.’ It’s the personal connection to these characters that most of us only know from two-dimensional black and white newsreels that rips our hearts out and perhaps reminds us that we haven’t learned as much as we think we have.
Both Stewarts double down on their sizably charismatic talents along with a stellar, hard-edged cast to tell the story of people, according to Gilford (Joe Gilford documents the struggle his parents, entertainers Jack Gilford and Madeline Lee Gilford, endured when they were called to testify) who did nothing more than care enough to defend the common man, but who were demonized for doing so.
Are we really prepared to stand up for what’s right? What can we live with? For Mickey Dobb’s (Stewart), the dilemma is, “What is the legacy we will leave to our children?”
On the verge of TV stardom, a comic meets an actress/activist, their romance blossoms-as does their risk of being blacklisted for their political activities. The House Un-American Activities Committee, tasked with exposing communist subversion, is conducting hearings which lead to more than 300 directors, actors, radios personalities, and screenwriters to be boycotted by studios. Friends are turning against friends, and family. Most who are named will never recovered their careers. Those who willingly testify-naming others to the committee-will be branded as finks.
Viewing McCarthy era politics via Finks, inserts empathy into what has normally been portrayed as a good versus evil battle. Finks lends insight into one of America’s most terrible times and to this immediate group of people who were passionate about injustice if not always wise about correcting it. Aligning themselves with Communistic ideals and calling one another comrade of course, did nothing to advance their cause in the public forum overall then. Communism was and still is seen as the natural enemy of Democracy and subversive to the American ideal. At least that was the argument. The crux though, then as in now, is how do you overcome a system that has the power to keep you locked in it? How can change be affected for the common good when there doesn’t seem to be any good in government for the common man?
Whatever viewpoint you take with this show, there is no doubt that the real tragedy here is that the human condition will make people do terrible things to one another, even against their will, even in the face of the truth or with the help of a lie, in order to do what’s right. But who is on the right side all of the time?
Crisp direction by Michael Pressman. Flawless, sharp delivery by the entire ensemble cast: Daniel Dorr (Victor Lynch, Stanley, Elia Kazan), Thomas Fiscella (Phil Larson, Martin Berkeley, Lee J. Cobb), Matt Gottlieb (Rep. Walter), Stephen Tyler Howell (Sgt. at Arms, Bartender, Announcer, Leading Man), Adam Lebowitz-Lockard (Bobby Gerard), Richard Levinson (Pianist), Bruce Nozick (Fred Lang), Vanessa Claire Stewart (Natalie Meltzer), and French Stewart (Mickey Dobbs)…as well as the production elements by the creative team: John Perrin Flynn (Artistic Director/ Producer/), Cecila Fairchild (Assistant Director), Stephanie Kerley Schwartz (Scenic Design), Matt Richter (Lighting Design), Christopher Moscatiello (Sound Design), Nick Santiago (Projection Designer), Halei Parker (Costume Design), and Marwa Bernstein (Choreographer).
Finks in one of the most dauntless, ‘on point’ productions of the season – acute, relevant and filled with battering heartbreak.
Very Highly Recommended