A kittenish Marilyn Monroe in bed with director Elia Kazan, who then introduces the starlet to playwright Arthur Miller! This love triangle, the heart of playwright Jack Canfora’s Fellow Travelers in a world premiere that just opened at Bay Street Theater, is astonishing for more than the sex, who is having it with whom. These were artists of the 1950’s fully committed to their work, and so a backstory for staging the 20th century’s most iconic dramas against the real-life trials of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee, informs the heated, engaging dialogue.
Fellow Travelers, under Michael Wilson’s fine direction, will leave viewers deeply moved by the effects of the McCarthy era on creative lives, debating points along the way. Is it relevant to today’s American ethos? The line about paranoia that Russia is infiltrating our country through our movies leaps out. Here it refers to Kazan’s masterpiece On the Waterfront, and to the consequence of fear that so informs the writing of Miller’s stage play, The Crucible. To what extent does the present culture force self-censorship?
Famously put on the spot, Kazan names names, which looks like a gratuitous act in this play’s version of events: “I wanted to work,” he exclaims. Miller famously shunned this former best friend on the street. And Monroe, in her goodness attempted to patch things up between these powerful men, and succeeded maybe for a moment. They did collaborate after. The actors: a lean Wayne Alan Wilcox evokes Arthur Miller’s physicality and New York cadences, and Vince Nappo, Elia Kazan’s immigrant look. The men are joined by Mark Blum as Harry Cohn and Jeffrey Bean as Roy Brewer/ Kermit Bloomgarden.
And what of Marilyn Monroe, simply a lynchpin for these men? After her death (from suicide?), Kazan finds a carbon copy, the actress Rachel Spencer Hewitt doubly effective as Marilyn and her substitute in blond wig and negligees. Fellow Travelers comes from a male perspective, as fits that era of women aiming to please, and so she delivers the drama’s last, chilling line: “Glad you like it.”