Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Brian Dennehy Brings Trumbo to Life
Tony and Golden Globe award winner Brian Dennehy holds the audience captivated with his portrayal of the legendary screenwriter Dalton Trumbo in Trumbo: Red, White & Blacklisted at the Post Street Theatre in San Francisco. This exclusive engagement will run through March 20th with no extensions, since Mr. Dennehy will be off to London to star in Death of a Salesman.
It's hard to be objective about this one hour and 25 minute production. I was in Hollywood and in the film business during what Mr. Trumbo himself said was "... a time of evil." He said, "we all were victims because almost without exception each of us felt compelled to say things he did not want to say, to do things he did not want to do." Also since I had met Trumbo in 1945 at the McArthur Headquarters in Manila, and several times after his prison release, it is painful for me to remember those times. To be left of center and a closeted homosexual during those days in Hollywood was a very scary time.
Brian Dennehy catches the essence of Dalton Trumbo's lucid and eloquent writing in the letters to Dalton's son, Christopher. The actor reads an acerbic letter to a contractor who was adding additions to his ranch home north of Los Angeles that is a masterpiece of droll complaints on the work. Trumbo starts the letter with "Dear Burglars," and then list all of the complaints with great flare. He ends the letter by stating that a payment will be made late and "considering what you've done to me, I ought to make you wait the full nine months."
Dalton's letter of sympathy to the mother of a screenplay writer who had recently passed way, and who fronted one of Dalton's screenplays during the blacklist years, is heartrending. Some of the letters go on a bit with rhetoric that might be over the heads of some members of the audience unless they actually experienced the times. Dennehy brings this legendary man back to life.
Dennehy's reading of a letter to a fair-weather friend who had denounced him and sent him a charity check and a letter ending with "affection," is beautifully read with great dramatic input on the part of the actor. As Dennehy states loudly and angrily, "Give me no more affection: I stagger beneath that already conferred."
Christopher Trumbo, who has written this ode to his father, might have used a little whitewash since his father did have faults that we all knew about. He could show cool contempt against the studio heads, his feistiness was like that of an old curmudgeon. It is understandable that the son would wash over these faults since his father did stand for independence and democratic values where everyone could speak his mind. It is mentioned briefly that Dalton wrote some fairly bad screenplays, like the old Lloyd Bridge's sci-fi "B" movie called Rocket Ship X-M, which I am sure Dalton himself would just as soon forget. During one year, the writer turned out 12 scripts (30 days for each) at $1000 per script. Christopher does mention that Dalton loved to live grandly. Even after the imprisonment, the father spent lavishly on a ranch just outside of Los Angeles.
William Zielinski (Philadelphia actor) gives a creditable portrayal of Christopher, more in the role of narrator. (On opening night, the real Christopher was in the audience and I had a chance to talk to him about my experiences in Hollywood during "the evil years.")
The Post Street stage contains two movie screens, one on each side of the stage where highlights of the House Un-American Committee interviews are shown: Robert Taylor saying "they should send all of those Commies back to Russia," Gary Cooper staggeringly saying he really did not know what the theories of Communism were. In the middle of the stage is a desk where Dennehy reads the letters while Zielinski is off to the side.
Trumbo: Red, White and Blacklisted runs through March 20th only and tickets can be obtained by calling the box office at 415-771-6900 or obtaining tickets thru www.ticketmaster.com.