Kedar K. Adour

Performing Arts Reviews

FINKS is early McCarthyism personified.

Mickey (Jim Stanek), Fred (Gabriel Marin) and Natalie (Donna Vivino) explain the Red Channels during a benefit performance. Photo by Kevin Berne

                                           From left: Natalie (Donna Vivino) is questioned by Representative Walters (Robert Sicular) on the witness stand in TheatreWorks’ “Finks.”

FINKS: By Joe Gilford. Directed by Giovanna Sardelli. TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts 500 Castro St., Mountain View, CA. www.theatreworks.org  or call (650) 463-1960.    June 6 – July 1, 2018

FINKS is early McCarthyism personified. Rating: ★★★★☆

To refresh your memory McCarthyism is the practice of making accusations of subversion or treason without proper regard for evidence. He is associated with the second “Red Scare” in America. The first “Red Scare” is reference to the 1950’s witch hunt for communist in the entertainment industry by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) headed by Representative Francis Walter that eventually led to the “Hollywood 10” who were blacklisted in 1953. That committee was not interested in false accusation but rather a desire to find the names of those with communist leanings. Comedian actor Jack Guilford and his political active wife Madeline were caught up in that era because of their leftist ideals and ended up on the Black List after being called up by HUAC.

Joe Gilford is their son and has based the show on their experience with HUAC. The individuals who named names are labeled as “finks.” In his play author Gilford has elected to use fictitious names for his parents: Mickey (Jim Stanek) and Natalie (Donna Vivino). Most of the other characters are composites of real people and the ensemble cast fulfills those roles expertly and distinctly.  There are names of real people (Elia Kazan, Lee J. Cobb, Bud Schulberg) but inexplicably the character based on the most written about fink, Jerome Robbins, is named Bobby (Leo Ash Evans).

The play alternates between the courtship/marriage of Mickey and Natalie and the interrogations at the HUAC where they eventually testify.  In the beginning Mickey is a nightclub comedian with no specific political motivations who describes himself as the “guy who introduces Sinatra.” The love between the pair is complicated by Natalie’s strong political personality that is eventually accepted by Mickey.

Throughout the first act Guilford introduces his various characters and the scenes never coalesce but rather are individual vignettes that define the personal damage inflicted by HUAC. Each scene is expertly staged by Giovanni Sardelli often with humor to contrast with the ever present interrogation room platform elevated on center stage with the imposing figure of Representative Walter (Robert Sicular) taking command.

To lighten the tension there are dance numbers between Bobby and Natalie indicating their personal bond that will be shattered when Bobby gives names to the committee. Gabe Marin gives a strong performance as the rebellious Fred Lang who is imprisoned and eventually commits suicide. One of the most devastating scenes in the play is an Abbott & Costello skit where Marin is brilliant as Costello unable understand why the publication AWARE has so much control to actually publish the Black List.

Jim Stanek gives a nuanced performance as Mickey that is perfect for the role and will have you cheering for him when he goes before the HUAC. Donna Vivino, the only woman in the cast, handles her turn to testify with strength but throughout the evening it is difficult empathize with her character. Leon Ash Evens is reprising the role of Bobby that he played on Broadway gives a polished performance with an ambiguous patina suggesting no inner conflict

The final scenes of Mickey and Natalie’s interrogations will have you cheering even though it will lead to being black listed. It is only hoped that you will never have to make a decision to be or not to be a fink when you will be damned if you do give names and have your career destroyed. The show is a solid should see that runs about 2 hours and 10 minutes with an intermission.

CAST: Jim Stanek as comedian Mickey Dobbs; Donna Vivino as the actress and activist Natalie Meltzer; Leo Ash Evens as choreographer Bobby; Gabriel Marin as the painter and actor Fred; Robert Sicular  as Chairman of the House Committee on Un-American Activities Representative Francis Walter; Michael Barrett Austin as attorney Victor Lynch; Richard Frederick as Mr. Weston; George Psarras as the Pianist

CREATIVE TEAM: Directed by Giovanna Sardelli; Scenic Designer, Andrea Bechert; Costume Designer, Cathleen Edwards; Lighting Designer, Steven B. Mannshardt; Sound Designer, Jake Rodriguez; Choreographer, Dottie Lester-White; Stage Manager, Randall K. Lum; Assistant Stage Manager, Emily Anderson Wolf

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldim2.com.

Caption: From left: Natalie (Donna Vivino) is questioned by Representative Walters (Robert Sicular) on the witness stand in TheatreWorks’ “Finks.”

L-R: Mickey (Jim Stanek), Fred (Gabriel Marin) and Natalie (Donna Vivino) explain the Red Channels during a benefit performance in “FINKS” presented by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts June 6 to July 1, 2018. Photo credit: Kevin Berne

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