Trumbo: Red, White, and Blacklisted
Trumbo's son, Christopher (Brian Hutchison) composed the play through the words, phrases, dialect, commentary and inner workings of his late father's letters. In 1947, Dalton Trumbo and nine of his artistic peers were called before the House Un-American Activities Committee and grilled about political affiliations, preferences, leanings ... Trumbo had been a member of the Communist Party but ultimately allowed this activity to lapse. Unlike some others, such as Elia Kazan, for example, Trumbo chose not to name names. Standing firmly behind his decision to withhold information, he was imprisoned in 1950.
While blacklisted, he continued to write scripts such as Gun Crazy and Roman Holiday. After his death, Trumbo was awarded an Oscar for Roman Holiday, which had first been released as Ian McLellan Hunter's work. In 1960, Trumbo was, at last, recognized for his work on Exodus and Spartacus. The man was a victim of the Red Scare and virtually lost some of his most productive years (ages 41-54).
His letters are revealing, intimate, declarative, sarcastic, gripping, informative – and thoroughly engaging. The BSC performance benefits greatly from a superlative rendition by actor Thom Christopher, who previously starred in this company's production of A Picasso.
The written script, for Thom Christopher, becomes an actor's valued implement. He detaches pages from his binder, takes occasional glances at the words before him, and reacts as if he actually is Trumbo. He does so (fortunately) without trying to emulate the writer. Instead, Christopher fuses his persona with that of the screenwriter. It's an absolutely splendid turn. His voice deep and resonant, Christopher never strays from his seat but he gestures with his hands and his facial expressions speak volumes.
The son, played by Hutchison, serves as narrator during the play, beocming a somewhat minor character in Trumbo. His lines are fewer and he is more glued to the script more than is Thom Christopher. During his opening introduction, the suitably youthful Hutchison fails to project adequately, but he warms up as the show moves along.
Director Julianne Boyd wisely mounts occasional images on a white screen behind the actors. The photographs and language assist as storyline links.
When Deborah Kerr announced that Robert Rich had won the Academy Award in 1956 for The Brave One, nobody named Rich stepped forward to receive the statuette. Rich never existed, as Dalton Trumbo had written the screenplay. After his release from prison, Trumbo began to pen scripts under an assumed name.
Christopher Trumbo includes many different types of letters, including those ranging from highly political to most personal. When the son was an adolescent, Dalton sent him a book called "Sex Without Guilt." His four-page accompanying letter is funny, outrageous, interesting and self-deprecating.
One of the final narrative segments of the play, as read by Hutchison, includes a Ring Lardner assessment of Dalton Trumbo, which begins with the descriptive words "fascinating"” and "abrasive." Lardner proceeded with "other modifiers, including wise, funny, greedy, generous, vain, biting, solicitous, ruthless, tender-hearted, devious, contentious, superbly rational, altruistic, prophetic, short-sighted, and indefatigable."
Trumbo invigorates the intellect amid these bleak weather days (cold, sleet, freezing rain) in the Berkshires. The heat is on within the theater for Thom Christopher, who, working from the inside of the man outward, is sharp and sustaining.
Trumbo: Red, White and Blacklisted continues at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, Massachusetts through February 24th. For ticket and specific schedule information, call (413) 236-8888.
- Fred Sokol