Theater review by Diane Snyder. Ensemble Studio Theatre (see Off Broadway). By Joe Gilford. Dir. Giovanna Sardelli. With ensemble cast. 2hrs 10mins. One intermission.
Forget blue jokes; the humor in Finks, Joe Gilford’s farsighted yet tender tribute to his blacklisted parents, is distinctly red, and a surprising element in a play based on the struggles of actors Jack Gilford and Madeline Lee, whose lives were upended when the House Un-American Activities Committee went on its witch hunt for communist sympathizers in the 1950s and they didn’t trade names. But it’s part of what makes this play, directed with vitality by Giovanna Sardelli, a nifty bit of theater.
Using a mixture of historical and invented characters, Gilford contrasts scenes inspired by his parents’ lives and his father’s stand-up routines with ones based on the actual testimony of finkers such as Elia Kazan (Jason Liebman) and Lee J. Cobb (Thomas Lyons). For example, fictional activist Natalie Meltzer (Miriam Silverman) brings Mickey Dobbs (Aaron Serotsky) into her fold, even getting him to perform an Abbott and Costello–style Red Scare routine. Although he shares her beliefs, Mickey professes to be apolitical, but he’s the first to recognize the threat from outside and within their circle, which includes Bobby Gerard (Leo Ash Evans), a choreographer based on HUAC informer Jerome Robbins.
The eight-person ensemble is uniformly strong, especially Serotsky, who beautifully shifts from light- to heavy-hearted as the fallout leaves him questioning his actions, and Ned Eisenberg as a fiery colleague completely destroyed. At times the proceedings get too diffusive, and the dialogue overly expository, but the production keeps coming back into focus as Gilford tries to understand why some of the accused betrayed friends to keep their livelihoods. In that, he demonstrates a pluck similar to that of his parents.—Diane Snyder