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Hollywood blacklist echoes in ‘Value of Names’

Benny (David Alexander Johnston) and Norma (Julianna Grantham) speak about his past in Invisible Theater’s production of ‘The Value of Names.’

Invisible Theatre will present the Arizona premiere of “The Value of Names” by Jeffrey Sweet from Nov. 7-19.

The play introduces Benny Silverman, a celebrated comic who has revived his career via television after many years of forced inactivity that resulted from being named on the Hollywood blacklist of the 1950s. Now his actress daughter, Norma, has been cast in a play to be directed by Leo Greshen, the man who had testified against him before Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee. For more than 30 years, the committee held public hearings in attempt to root out those it deemed guilty of holding “un-American” views, especially communism.

“The issues this play explores remain intensely relevant in the United States of today,” says Susan Claassen, IT managing artistic director, noting that the committee’s tactics of scandal, innuendo, and the threat of imprisonment, disrupted lives and ruined careers in government, labor and academia as well as Hollywood. “In these divisive times, it becomes even more important to make sure our voices are heard.”

Writing about the play for an anthology, Sweet recalled that in 2006 he attended a production in Stratford, Connecticut, and stood up after to discuss the show with the audience.

“A woman toward the back of the house got up and said, ‘You’d have no way of knowing it, but that’s my life you put onstage.’ She had come to the show unaware of the subject matter ….”

The woman’s father was Bob Roberts, who produced two hit films starring John Garfield, “Force of Evil” and “Body and Soul,” but “when the red scare hit postwar Hollywood, Roberts found himself unemployable in the States,” Sweet wrote. “He fled the country for the UK. ‘That’s why I speak this way,’ the woman in the audience said in a crisp British accent.”

For ticket information, visit invisible theatre.com or call 882-9721.

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