26 February 2005: Trumbo, Trumbo: Red, White, and Blacklisted

Matinee. Wimberly Theatre, Tremont Steeet, Boston. Second home of the Huntington Theatre Company. Directed by Peter Askin. Dalton Trumbo played by Brian Dennehy; Chrisopher Trumbo by William Zielenski

Not a play, exactly; it could just as well have been a radio or TV perform­ance. The bulk of it is made up of the text of letters written by Dalton Trumbo before, during, and after his appearance before a session of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), where he refused to answer the question “Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party?” And refused, then and subsequently, to name names of such persons. As a result, Trumbo was fired by MGM and for over a decade could not find work as a writer. Secretly, nonetheless, he wrote screenplays, for two of which he was awarded an Oscar.

Christ­o­pher Trumbo has composed this ninety-minute sequence apparently as a tribute to his father, who died as long ago as 1976. The letters are often eloquent tirades, written in the most literate and compel­ling style imaginable. Dennehy embodies the character of a brave man, a relentless foe of pretense and pomposity, an eloquent defender of human rights and a champion of individual conscience who never suffers fools gladly but will remain steadfast to beleaguered friends to the death. The letters are by turns very funny and quite moving. It made me want to track down his best-known novel Johnny Got His Gun, which won the National Book Award, and to see whether his letters or other writings have ever been published.

An unusual but in some ways quite satisfying afternoon in the theatre. It left me drawing some very disturbing analogies with U. S. Government attempts to infringe individual rights, at Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere, in the name of “homeland security.”


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An American Playgoer at Home by Joseph Donohue is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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