Wednesday, June 13, 2018

'Finks' relates scary period of Red Scare

Donna Vivino is Natalie and Jim Stanek is Mickey in "Finks." (Photo by Kevin Berne)

“Finks,” presented by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, is set in the early 1950s during the Red Scare, one of the more shameful periods in American history.

Playwright Joe Gilford writes from a personal perspective because his parents were caught up in it. He fictionalizes their experience as theatrical people who faced blacklisting – that is, no chance to work in the industry – if they didn’t reveal the names of others supposedly affiliated with the Communist Party. They might face imprisonment for contempt of Congress.

The House Un-American Activities Committee, or HUAC, would call people to testify. If they didn’t cooperate, their careers would be ruined. If they did cooperate, their colleagues called them finks and shunned them.

In the play, Gilford calls his father Mickey Dobbs (Jim Stanek), a comic actor who reluctantly joined an activist theatrical group led by actor Natalie Meltzer (Donna Vivino), to whom he was attracted and later married.

The story is related in events involving them, their friends and the HUAC hearings chaired by Rep. Francis Walter (Robert Sicular). Walter’s name isn’t changed, nor is that of other characters such as Lee J. Cobb, Elia Kazan and Budd Schulberg.

Besides Mickey and Natalie, the main characters include artist Fred Lang (Gabriel Marin) and choreographer Bobby Gerard (Leo Ash Evens). Some actors play several roles.

Directed by Giovanna Sardelli, the play is well acted, but the script is episodic. Thus it feels jerky, especially in the first act. The second act is stronger because it focuses on the agonizing choice between career and betrayal of friends.

Design elements are effective with Andrea Bechert’s set, Cathleen Edwards’ costumes, Steven B. Mannshardt’s lighting and Jake Rodriguez’s sound. Choreography is by Dottie Lester-White.

Running slightly more than two hours with one intermission, “Finks” will continue through July 1 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View.

For tickets and information, call (650) 463-1960 or visit