The Screenwriter’s Daughter, Leicester Square Theatre.  Review by Julia Pascal.

 

This fascinating play is a study of the famous playwright and screenwriter Ben Hecht and his relationship with his daughter Jenny.  The action takes place in the late sixties as actor Jenny works with The Living Theatre and is caught up in the radical politics of directors Judith Malina and Julian Beck.  The struggle between a father at the end of his life and a daughter in her twenties mirrors a larger political struggle.  The dynamic is between a respectable liberal male sensibility and an anarchic female one fighting for the end of capitalism.

There are echoes here of Philip Roth’s dark novel American Pastoral raised by Larry Molin’s funny and fearless script.  He reminds us of how Hecht, author of the famous play and film The Front Page is now a forgotten literary and political giant.  Hecht authored hundreds of scripts but was also famous as an opponent of British rule in Palestine.  Not content with alienating Whitehall he also challenged Jews who supported the Hungarian Jewish leader Rudolf Kastner.  This case still excites controversy as Kastner was accused of Nazi collaboration.  Hecht wrote the book Perfidy about this most provocative Jewish leader.

As well as drawing our attention to Hecht’s massive Hollywood career, Molin reminds us of his hugely energetic political activity.  He was an activist who funded a boat taking Shoah refugees to Palestine.  Hecht wanted to defy Ernest Bevin’s support of The White Paper limiting Jewish entry to Palestine.  Hecht was an enemy of the British and Molin sets the drama on the eve of Jenny’s European tour where she plans to go to the enemy country – England.  This is the central conflict between father and daughter.  She wants his blessing: he refuses.

The work is both political and personal.  It is about patriarchy, capitalism, US imperialism, Vietnam and sexual freedom.  In this tiny theatre there is a sense of world politics being played out.  Molin’s structure is a mixture of direct address and naturalism.  Director Anna Ostergren sensitively leads a strong cast.  Samantha Dakin, Paul Easom, Tom Hunter and Laura Pradelska take possession of the roles with passion and engagement.  This is a fabulously stimulating text and production with a simple but elegant set and lighting design by Lydia Cawson and Sarah Crocker.

Julia Pascal © 2015.