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Arts and Entertainment

"Goodbye, Louie...Hello," Hollywood Blacklist

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Alan Freeman and Steve Franken (Photo: Thomas Mikusz)
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If you love old Jews telling jokes, you'll like the first act of Goodbye, Louie...Hello, the late TV comedy writer Allan Manings's play about a pair of old-time comics. Back in the golden age of live television, Louie (Alan Freeman) was a big star and Benjy (an excellent Steve Franken) was his frequent sidekick. Now that they're largely retired, and both of their wives have passed away, the two meet each day in Louie's New York apartment to play gin rummy and make each other laugh.

In Act Two, though, just minutes before Louie is about to move to a retirement community in Arizona, his petulant son Scott (Paul Denniston) extracts a shameful secret that Louie has kept from Benjy for over four decades. And when Benjy comes by the apartment to wish his old friend bon voyage, Scott insists on making the moment as unhappy as possible.

Early in his career, Manings himself was caught up in the House Un-American Activities Committee's Hollywood inquisition, and Goodbye, Louie...Hello considers how the betrayals of the blacklist era continued to try the souls, and damage the careers, of artists and entertainers even after that terrible time had passed. Yet while the play was presumably written to preserve the historical memory of a clouded chapter in American history, Louie's climactic forced confession of his long-ago moment of weakness provides no one on stage, including Benjy, any form of relief, catharsis or liberation whatsoever.

Certainly all the trappings of Theatre West Executive Director John Gallogly's production admonish us that the tragic consequences of the McCarthy era's sins cannot be forgotten. The denouement of the drama that actually gets played out in Goodbye, Louie...Hello, however, counterintuitively, and perhaps counter-productively, offers no reason why the ghosts of the past should not just stay quiet.

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Goodbye, Louie...Hello plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through May 8 at Theatre West, on Cahuenga near Universal City. Ticket prices range from $6 to $28 on the Theatre West web site; tickets are are also available for $14.50 on goldstar and (using promo code 008) plays411 and for $15 on lastagetix.