Hats off to 8pB Theatre Company’s extremely young cast. They’ve formed their own theatre company and written, directed and performed a show about a challenging historical event — all before leaving school. Also, it’s set in 1950s America, so removing hats is just good manners. This piece on the McCarthy-era blacklisting of screenwriter Dalton Trumbo and other Hollywood bigwigs feels as dynamic as a school history project, but 8pB’s consideration and effort are absolutely commendable.
While the script is passionate and well researched, it does wander a bit.
Trumbo and his wife Cleo, along with three other Hollywood power couples, are attending a party on the eve of Trumbo’s hearing before the Committee for un-American Activities. Tensions are running high, and we get a series of internal monologues punctuated by short conversations. Unfortunately, while the monologues are largely successful, the dialogue is often stilted. They’ve done a beautiful job of writing in authentic 1950s American English, but haven’t quite figured out how to make the cocktail party zingers land with natural ease.
While the script is passionate and well researched, it does wander a bit. We don’t get much of a plot beyond the looming committee hearing and various unresolved marital disputes. The minimal staging doesn’t help either—they’ve used a static arrangement of chairs to suggest an opulent cocktail party, but a few rearrangements during the show wouldn’t hurt.
While the narrative is muddy and unresolved, there are some fine performances. Katie Keet is lovely and affecting as an emotionally stifled wife and mother, while Russell Jonathan Field is confident and superb as Dalton Trumbo. His old-fashioned accent never slips—clearly he’s spent some time listening to recording of Trumbo’s hearing.
The Hollywood Ten is a truly excellent first production from a brand new company. While there are plenty of kinks that need working out, 8pB has put a decent show together and that deserves applause. In four or five years, there’s no telling where these kids will be.