AISLE SAY San Francisco


By Christopher Trumbo
Presented by Claudia Catania & the Westside Theatre
Directed by Peter Askin
Post Street Theatre
450 Post St., San Francisco / (415) 433-9500

Reviewed by Judy Richter

Not long after the United States won World War II, it went into wartime status again, but this time it was the Cold War. Fears about communism and the Soviet Union, which had the atomic bomb, set off a wave of reaction in the country, much of it focused on possible communists among the citizenry. To that end, the House Un-American Activities Committee, or HUAC, embarked on what became a witch hunt as members of Congress tried to ferret out communists. Much of their attention was focused on people in arts and entertainment. Those who refused to cooperate with HUAC by naming names were blacklisted from their professions.

One victim of the blacklist was novelist-screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who was among the Hollywood 10, writers who wouldn't cooperate. He wound up going to federal prison for a year and struggling to find work for 14 years, sometimes writing under other names and even winning Academy Awards for his "Roman Holiday" and "The Brave One."

His son, Christopher Trumbo, chronicles his father's struggles in "Trumbo: Red White & Blacklisted." In this two-character, 90-minute intermissionless play, an actor portraying the son (William Zielinski) provides narrative and chronological context while another actor portraying Trumbo (Brian Dennehy) reads long letters that he wrote throughout his life.

This son's homage to his father shows a man devoted to his wife and three children and committed to his ideals. He's erudite and witty, but he also can be angry when it comes to defending himself or his family. Beyond the individual, however, there's also a cautionary tale about the dangers posed by politicians who would subvert the Constitution and individual rights in the name of patriotism or the effort to stamp out some perceived threat to the nation.

As directed by Peter Askin, both read from the script. Zielinski moves about the stage, but Dennehy remains seated at a writing desk. Loy Arcenas' set features two video screens on either side of the stage where clips from old newsreels and TV broadcasts are shown (video design by Dennis Diamond). Lighting is by Jeff Croiter, and the music and sound by are John Gromada. Zielinski is an affable Christopher, while Dennehy naturally shows a wider range of emotions as his father. It's a fascinating play that recalls a shameful period of modern American history, honors a man of high principles and reminds us that individuals must stand up for what is right and not allow a mob mentality to prevail.

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