Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Los Angeles

FinksRogue Machine Theatre
Review by Terry Morgan

French Stewart and Cast
Photo by John Perrin Flynn
The cost of integrity is never cheap, but it varies. Sometimes one can lose relationships with family or friends, lose a job or, in the direst circumstance, lose one's life. In the early 1950s, the House Un-American Activities Committee wielded Cold War communist paranoia to attack people whose views they didn't like, stripping them of their careers and reputations, or getting them to testify against their friends and colleagues. Joe Gilford's play, Finks, examines what it takes to stand up to a hostile, corrupt government, a situation one might find resonant here and now. The excellent production of the show by Rogue Machine Theatre demonstrates yet again what a strong and impressive company this is.

Nightclub comedian Mickey Dobbs (French Stewart) is doing well in his profession, but he's happier still when he meets the vivacious Natalie Meltzer (Vanessa Claire Stewart), and the couple has an immediate attraction. Natalie, however, is a left-wing activist, and she wants Mickey to join her artists alliance group. But when friends such as choreographer Bobby (Adam Lebowitz-Lockard) and group stalwart Fred (Bruce Nozick) start getting called in to testify before HUAC, Mickey has to decide between his friends or being blacklisted.

French Stewart is superb as Mickey, demonstrating his expert comedic skills in the nightclub scenes, and even more memorable in the dramatic sequences, where Mickey has to decide how much is he willing to sacrifice to speak truth. Vanessa Claire Stewart is terrific as the self-confident Natalie, stronger than anybody else around her, skillfully tossing out lines like "You dance well for a bourgeois parasite." Nozick is notably good as the angry Fred, and Lebowitz-Lockard excels as Bobby, especially in a scene where he covertly tries to tell Natalie what's going to happen in her near future.

Michael Pressman's direction is assured and his pacing swift, transitioning from songs to hearings to parties without a hitch. He uses the stage so effectively that each scene seems spatially distinctive, even though the performance "locations" are fairly close together. Gilford's writing is witty and powerful, providing a sobering example of what happens when "accusation has become final judgment." His dramatic structure, of Mickey and Natalie's story alternating with famous people (Elia Kazan, Lee J. Cobb) testifying before the committee, slowly ratchets up the tension as one realizes that the plot is moving inexorably toward our heroes' moral reckoning.

It's important not to forget what injustices our countrymen can do to each other under the guise of patriotism, and Finks is a clear-eyed reminder. This is a great production of an important play that right now seems too close to home. One hopes, as Natalie says in the show, that "everything, someday, is gonna be fine."

Finks, through December 30, 2018, plays at Rogue Machine Theatre, 1416 Electric Ave, Venice CA. Tickets and information are available at

Rogue Machine presents Finks by Joe Gilford. Directed by Michael Pressman. Lighting Designer, Matt Richter; Scenic Designer, Stephanie Kerley Schwartz; Sound Designer, Christopher Moscatiello; Costume Designer, Halei Parker.

Sgt. at Arms, Bartender, Announcer, Leading Man: Stephen Tyler Howell
Dickie Lewis (the Piano Man): Richard Levinson
Mickey Dobbs: French Stewart
Rep. Walter: Matt Gottlieb
Fred Lang: Bruce Nozick
Natalie Meltzer: Vanessa Claire Stewart
Victor Lynch, Stanley, Elia Kazan: Daniel Dorr
Martin Berkeley, Carl Brody, Budd Schulberg, Lee J. Cobb, Phil Larsen: Thomas Fiscella
Bobby Gerard: Adam Lebowitz-Lockard