Trumbo | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader


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The cold war is long over, but the politics of divisiveness, in which critics of the government are smeared as traitors, is all too present today. In this climate it's both stimulating and scary to be reminded of the case of blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo, imprisoned in the late 40s for contempt of Congress after refusing to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. (In a later TV interview he said he was guilty as charged--he did have contempt for Congress.) Trumbo's screenplays included the preblacklist Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo; the 1956 The Brave One, for which he won an Oscar under a pseudonym, to the embarrassment of the film industry; Spartacus, for which producer-star Kirk Douglas bravely insisted the screenwriter be credited under his real name; and the devastating Johnny Got His Gun, based on Trumbo's antiwar novel. He also churned out a body of fierce, funny, grandly phrased, cuttingly sharp correspondence, which his son Christopher has adapted into a readers' theater text. Premiered off-Broadway last year with Nathan Lane in the title role, Trumbo receives a one-night performance as part of Steppenwolf's "Traffic" series. Chicago literary lion Studs Terkel stars; if there was ever a casting coup, this is it. Though best known as an oral historian, Terkel was a stage and TV actor in the 1940s; his gravelly, no-nonsense yet nuanced delivery should suit Trumbo's prose perfectly--and as a former blacklistee himself he brings passionate understanding to the material. Indeed, the script has been abridged to allow Terkel time to discuss his experiences with Trumbo and the blacklist. Joining Terkel under Mark Lococo's direction is the superb off-Loop and Broadway veteran Ross Lehman, who provides narration and portrays multiple supporting characters. Steppenwolf Theatre Company, downstairs theater, 1650 N. Halsted, 312-335-1650. Monday, March 29, 7:30 PM. $25.


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