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A CurtainUp Review
Although minor characters in the play keep their real names (Elia Kazan, Lee J. Cobb), Jack becomes Mickey (Aaron Serotsky) and Madeline is Natalie (Miriam Silverman). Jerome Robbins, the young choreographer who betrayed the Gilfords before the HUAC, is called Bobby (Leo Ash Evens). The play, ably directed by Giovanna Sardelli, shifts back and forth between the floor of Congress and the various places where Mickey and Natalie perform and live.
When Mickey first meets Natalie, he is working as a nightclub entertainer, and she is a radio and television actress. He is single and she is married but for some reason not very committed to her marriage. At first, Mickey hesitates to become involved with a married woman who is so dedicated to political causes. But he eventually throws caution to the winds and marries Natalie, who gets a divorce as easily as people change their clothing.
Gilford never explains why Natalie (or his mother) was unhappy in her marriage. The fact that Natalie is married contributes nothing and one suspects it is only in the play because the playwright was determined to stick to the truth, in which case he might have included that his mother also had a child by her first husband.
With husband #1 out of the way, the play progresses fairly smoothly, but the lives of the characters do not. Little by little, they become more enmeshed in political affairs and increasingly vulnerable to the anti-communist wave that swept the country in the 50s. In the end the couple has nothing left but their integrity and their new baby.
Serotsky is wonderful as a nice, moral guy who just wants to act. When he sings and cracks jokes he is not only totally believable but also thoroughly entertaining. Silverman does not seem so warm and likable, and its hard to see whether that's because of Gilfords writing or her acting. Of maybe that's just the way Gilford saw his parents.
At any rate, Natalie comes off as somewhat manipulative and conniving. Its one thing to be dedicated to a cause. Its something else to get other people involved, especially when they are not fully aware of the risks.
Most of the other actors have multiple roles. Ned Eisenberg is especially fine as Fred Lang, the actor who refuses to be compromised, goes to jail and eventually kills himself.
The stage at Ensemble Studio Theatre is a bit too small to accommodate the different scenes that happen simultaneously. In fact, Gilford, who teaches screenplay writing at NYU, has written a script that might be served much better by a film or television treatment.
Nevertheless, thanks to the great skill of the director and her talented cast, Finks surmounts most of the challenges inherent in the script. Finks is often funny, generally moving and has an ending that leaves the audience feeling satisfied and just a bit nervous.
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