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A CurtainUp Review

"Don't pick on Trotsky. He was a very funny guy. Before he left town he asked Lenin to watch Stalin. Now that's a man with a sense of humor."—Mickey
Miriam Silverman andAaron Serotsky (Photo: Gerry Goodstein)
Democracy is a precious but delicate institution, which can be easily destroyed. It was most seriously challenged during the McCarthy era of the 1950s. Joe Gilfords play, Finks, documents the trouble his parents, entertainers Jack Gilford and Madeline Lee Gilford, went through when they were called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and subsequently blacklisted. The word "fink," as used by Gilford in the title, refers to those informers who gave the committee the names of people who had engaged in "communist" activities.

Although minor characters in the play keep their real names (Elia Kazan, Lee J. Cobb), Jack becomes Mickey (Aaron Serotsky) and Madeline is Natalie (Miriam Silverman). Jerome Robbins, the young choreographer who betrayed the Gilfords before the HUAC, is called Bobby (Leo Ash Evens). The play, ably directed by Giovanna Sardelli, shifts back and forth between the floor of Congress and the various places where Mickey and Natalie perform and live.

When Mickey first meets Natalie, he is working as a nightclub entertainer, and she is a radio and television actress. He is single and she is married but for some reason not very committed to her marriage. At first, Mickey hesitates to become involved with a married woman who is so dedicated to political causes. But he eventually throws caution to the winds and marries Natalie, who gets a divorce as easily as people change their clothing.

Gilford never explains why Natalie (or his mother) was unhappy in her marriage. The fact that Natalie is married contributes nothing and one suspects it is only in the play because the playwright was determined to stick to the truth, in which case he might have included that his mother also had a child by her first husband.

With husband #1 out of the way, the play progresses fairly smoothly, but the lives of the characters do not. Little by little, they become more enmeshed in political affairs and increasingly vulnerable to the anti-communist wave that swept the country in the 50s. In the end the couple has nothing left but their integrity and their new baby.

Serotsky is wonderful as a nice, moral guy who just wants to act. When he sings and cracks jokes he is not only totally believable but also thoroughly entertaining. Silverman does not seem so warm and likable, and its hard to see whether that's because of Gilfords writing or her acting. Of maybe that's just the way Gilford saw his parents.

At any rate, Natalie comes off as somewhat manipulative and conniving. Its one thing to be dedicated to a cause. Its something else to get other people involved, especially when they are not fully aware of the risks.

Most of the other actors have multiple roles. Ned Eisenberg is especially fine as Fred Lang, the actor who refuses to be compromised, goes to jail and eventually kills himself.

The stage at Ensemble Studio Theatre is a bit too small to accommodate the different scenes that happen simultaneously. In fact, Gilford, who teaches screenplay writing at NYU, has written a script that might be served much better by a film or television treatment.

Nevertheless, thanks to the great skill of the director and her talented cast, Finks surmounts most of the challenges inherent in the script. Finks is often funny, generally moving and has an ending that leaves the audience feeling satisfied and just a bit nervous.

Finks by Joe Gilford
Directed by Giovanna Sardelli
Cast: Michael Cullen (Rep. Walter), Ned Eisenberg (Fred Lang), Leo Ash Evens (Bobby), Kenney M. Green (Piano Player and others) Jason Liebman (Lynch and others), Thomas Lyons (Larsen and others), Aaron Serotsky (Mickey) and Miriam Silverman (Natalie)
Set Design: Jason Simms
Lighting Design: Gina Scherr
Costume Design: Sydney Maresca
Sound Design: Jill duBoff
Choreography: Greg Graham
Production Stage Manager: Jillian Anderson
Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes with one intermission
Ensemble Studio Theatre 549 West 52nd Street
From 3/31/13; opening 4/06/13; closing 5/05/13
Wednesday through Sunday evenings at 7:00pm with Saturday matinees at 2pm, and an early curtain Sunday at 5:00pm
Tickets: $30, $20 for student/seniors. ALL MATINEES FOR THE ENTIRE RUN ARE PICK YOUR OWN PRICE. 866.811.4111 or click <>
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons March 31, 2013
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