“Are you now, or have ever been a member of the Communist Party…”
Those words are arguably the most chilling and threateningly veiled ever posed throughout American history. And for those perhaps unfamiliar with its implications (and in a historical context) its significance, a talented group of young actors and actresses from the 8PB Theatre Company, helped to shed a little light on this very dark part of America’s past.
The main setting of the production takes place during an elaborate dinner party for assorted friends and colleagues in the Hollywood community of 1947. The genial (if a little worried) hosts for the evening’s festivities are called “Betty & Larry” – otherwise known as celebrated Hollywood couple, Betty Garrett and Larry Parks.
Both were popular stars of the time (Parks had just enjoyed his greatest success on screen, with his portrayal of Al Jolson), yet his career in particular, would be incalculably damaged by the corrosive effects of the McCarthy era. Throughout the evening’s casual conversations, and easy flow of drinks, one of their guests, who is due to appear the very next morning before the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) awaits his fate, defiant in the knowledge that he will determinedly stand up for his principles, regardless of the outcome. His name was Dalton Trumbo.
The late 1940’s in America, turned out to be a time blighted by fear, suspicion, distrust, paranoia and guilt, as the implied threat of Communist infiltration into the motion picture industry took a firm grip, and ran amok. Writers, directors, producers and actors, would all find themselves placed under the spotlight, as any perceived form of left leaning sympathies could leave them open to bitter accusations, and ultimate banishment from working in Hollywood.
The talented and committed group of young actors from the 8PB Theatre Company (who wrote this telling piece between them) illustrate with probing intelligence just what this meant, particularly for one such individual, Dalton Trumbo.
At the time, Dalton Trumbo was perhaps the most prestigious and highly regarded writer in Hollywood, yet his career would soon become engulfed by the dark shadow of the HUAC, and he would eventually find himself black-listed for many years. That is until his name and reputation was properly and rightly reinstated by one Kirk Douglas, who hired him to write “Spartacus” in 1960, and thus smash the blacklist forever.
This production (including actual archive recordings of a number of the witnesses on the stand, adding that extra bit of authenticity) turned out to be a literate, passionate and engrossing study of a painful period of American history that is now perhaps overlooked – although its deep repercussions destroyed many lives and reputations.
So a big round of applause goes to the cast from 8PB for giving us a glimpse back into those troubled times, when Hollywood would find itself on trial.