Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, March 2000
We all know the horror of losing our "good name". For whatever it is worth, whatever minor sins we may commit as we stumble through this life, most of us value our reputation, our "name", very highly indeed.
Women are perhaps easier about changing their names than men because we know the subject is likely to come up if we enter into a serious relationship. I am one of the few women I know who cheerfully discarded her birth surname at marriage in favor of keeping my given middle name. I was Gail M. Bury and I wanted to be Gail M. Burns. Now I have huge fights with people who "knew me when" over how my name appears on lists and even on pieces that I write. I am not Gail Bury Burns or Gail B. Burns or even Gail Burns. I am Gail M. Burns and that is that. That is my "good name".
At the start of Jeffrey Sweet's "The Value of Names", now playing on weekends at the Main Street Stage in North Adams, a young woman, an actress, is discussing with her father her desire to use her mother's birth surname instead of his as her stage name. He has all the usual fatherly, familial objections to this idea. He is divorced from her mother and seems both amused and perturbed that she took back her birth surname immediately after their divorce. He insists on having her alimony checks made out to "Mrs. Benny Silverman".
It happens that Benny Silverman (Bruce T. MacDonald) is a famous but reclusive comedy star from the early days of television, and his daughter, Norma (Deidre Bollinger) feels, as many children of celebrities feel, that she will have a better chance of making it on her own in show business if she is not known just as "Benny Silverman's daughter".
But Silverman is obsessed with his name not just because of the fame associated with it. As Norma finds out by innocently reading TV Guide in the checkout line at the supermarket, he was "named" as a Communist before the House Un-American Activities Committee during the McCarthy era of the early fifties. And the person who named him was Leo Greshen (Glenn Barrett), an old friend and colleague from idealistic youthful days in the theatre.
The director of the show Norma is appearing in dies unexpectedly, and Leo is brought in as his replacement. He and Norma have never met, and because she has changed her name, he does not immediately associate her with Benny Silverman. She chooses to leave the show, and he comes to find her at her father's house to persuade her to stay. This leads to confrontations between Leo and Norma, Leo and Benny, and Benny and Norma before the unsettling end of the play.
Playwright Sweet has packed all of this thought provoking action into less than an hour and a half, and MacDonald, as both director and actor, has wisely chosen to perform the play straight through without intermission. MacDonald and Barrett are old friends and have performed and worked together on many stages throughout the Berkshires and beyond. They are wonderful, together and separately, as Benny and Leo. Bollinger is trying a little too hard to look younger than she is, but her performance is nice, and she and MacDonald make a convincing father and daughter team.
Spencer Trova's set relieved the tunnel-like aspect of the Main Street stage area, and also was not swathed in black, as every other show I have seen there has been. This show is set in sunny California, and the Trova has created a cheerful pastel stucco effect for Benny's patio overlooking the Pacific. Cris and Alexia Trova have lit it equally brightly. I could almost hear the waves in the distance.
This is a good production of a thought-provoking show written by an up-and-coming new playwright. I attended opening night and there were less than twenty people total in the building - including the cast and crew. It seems to me that the "Cultural Berkshires" might take a look at their good name and take a chance on this show and this theatre. It is not as if there is lots of other theatre competing for our time and entertainment dollars at this time of year. Do we only go to see big name stars, or do we genuinely support the growth and development of the arts? I would encourage you to do the latter and spend an hour and a half of your time at the Main Street Stage.
"The Value of Names" will be performed at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday evenings from now until April 29 at the Main Street Stage, 55 1/2 Main Street in North Adams. The show runs 80 minutes with intermission. Call the box office at 413-663-3240 for tickets and information.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2000