Reviewed by Sandy Michel.
The House Un-American Activities Committee reigned supreme in October 1947. The press, radio, and TV gave the investigation of alleged Holywood Commies full coverage. Dalton Trumbo, a talented and witty screenwriter, was one of the so-called subversive Hollywood Ten.
I was 13 years old and a junior high school student in New York City at this shameful and frightening time in our history. I cut classes to watch the hearings. It was a unique experience. Were we to be more frightened by our government’s tactics or by the so-called treasonous Hollywood Ten? Whichever impacted you was a personal experience.
I was frightened more easily by my government when it side-stepped the Constitution than I was by some political activists of varying persuasions. The drama of one of these blacklisted screenwriters, Dalton Trumbo, was the subject of Trumbo, Barrington Stage Company’s first production of 2008.
Knowing many of the facts about this time, I felt the play fell short of what could have been. The performance was static and poorly rehearsed. Thom Christopher, a fine actor, as demonstrated last year in his performance in Barrington Stage’s production of Picasso, was not familiar with the script and made many mistakes.
I was quite disappointed. The play ran for 90 minutes without an intermission. The only diversion was the use of videos and slides of the period. They were of very poor quality. One only has to compare the use of factual material with the Broadway production of Frost and Nixon to see the how such a device can really work to heighten drama.
The only other actor on stage was Brian Hutchinson who played Trumbo’s son and others. He also was the narrator, and did a creditable job. The presentation of Trumbo’s letters could have certainly been more dynamic. Dalton Trumbo was an acerbic, caustic, witty man of principle. His battle for professional survival is certainly a relevant topic to current history.