Does anyone today recall what “finks” meant in the 50’s? When the House of Un-American Activities Committee first reared its head, the world was a different place. The Cold War – pitting the U.S. and the Soviet Union against each other – was firmly in place; and many fine American patriots feared the Red Scourge more than life itself. Into this chaotic moment in history, the infamous Senator Joe McCarthy came up with the idea of ferreting out all those Commies hiding in plain sight and so removing these insidious, dangerous weeds from the American garden. Senator McCarthy was especially suspicious of those Hollywood liberal types, many of whom were or had been members of Communist organizations which had popped up all over California during WW II.
When called upon to testify before the House Un-American Committee, diversity of response was the norm. A few show business names, big and small, chose to cooperate fully and willingly gave up the names of their friends and even family members as Commies or fellow-travelers. These were the finks who betrayed their colleagues, often resulting in studio boycotts and destruction of formidable careers. Then there were the dissenters, many of whom ended up serving prison terms – and some even killing themselves burdened with guilt, shame, and failure. Some refused to cooperate until external pressures, and sometimes blackmail, built to such a perfect storm of conflicting values that they were forced to unwillingly “fink” on their friends.
Written by Joe Gilford and directed by Michael Pressman, both children of blacklisted parents, FINKS follows the inexorable downward spiral of people caught up in the McCarthy roller coaster for patriots. Comedian Mickey Dobbs (French Stewart), as apolitical as they come, is enticed into an Actors group with Communist ties by the comely activist Natalie Meltzer (Vanessa Claire Stewart), a woman he hopes to know much better. Besides, he is being recompensed for brief comedy bits at some of their meetings. Who turns down a paying gig?
Mickey’s career seems to be on the upswing as an offer for a television show surfaces. Meanwhile, colleagues are being called to testify before the House Committee – many with household names in Hollywood like Elia Kazan and Lee J. Cobb. As the net begins to close around people in the industry, Mickey merrily goes on with his life. He and his now-wife Natalie await the birth of their child; Mickey’s professional star is on the rise. And then the summons comes.
FINKS cleverly alternates between exuberant and humorous scenes and uber-serious House testimony to create a gripping tale of how youthfully innocent foibles may lead to folly later in life. And how our constitutional rights may be challenged at any moment by those who believe that they are acting for the greater good. FINKS ends on a powerful note as a “confessor” blandly reads his litany of names – most of whom may be targeted for devastation. Many of the people on the list are identified as Jewish, and a Jewish audience member remarked that the calm reading of names resembled Yiskor, a Jewish ritual of remembrance which occurs at Yom Kippur and ends with the reading of the names of those who died. A chilling thought indeed.
FINKS fits powerfully with its partnered Rogue Machine presentation, OPPENHEIMER. Together they form the picture of an era which should never be forgotten, an era with lessons as relevant today as they were more than 50 years ago.
FINKS runs through December 30, 2018, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays, at 3 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 7 p.m. on Sundays (no performances 11/16 or 12/21; extra performances at 8 p.m. on 11/26, 12/1, and 12/8; 11/17 show at 8 p.m.). The Rogue Machine performs at the Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Avenue, Venice, CA 90291. Tickets are $40 (Pay-what-you-can $5 minimum on 11/23; $10 minimum on 12/7). For information and reservations, call 855-585-5185 or go online.