Jeffery Sweet’s 30-year-old play “Value of Names” is presently staged, produced and directed by Ari Weisberg, the Artistic Director of TEATRON . Before the play began Weisberg told the audience that the original Benny withdrew from the production less than two weeks prior to opening night. Eric Fink stepped in on short notice and is still not completely off-book. He plays the role with intelligence, wit, and conviction.
As the play begins, Norma Silverman, the daughter played by Justine Lewis, comes to visit her father Benny, played by Eric Fink.
The scene is on the patio of a California home facing the Pacific Ocean. There is a table with 2 chairs, a buffet table, an easel with a work in progress, a bench and end table. Behind the glass, the inside of the house displayed art work, both paintings and sculpture.
Norma has something important to tell her father. Whenever she has an acting role, she is compared to her father rather than being accepted as an actress for her own abilities. She tells him she is going to change her name. They banter about the name change; the nudity in the play; whether she’ll stay with him or at a hotel, and the divorce of Benny and her mother. The act becomes more serious as she complains that he never mentioned the part of his life that affected his adult life and career most, that he was brought up before the House Committee on un-American Activities. Leo Greshen- played by Allan Price, brought Benny’s name before the Committee to save his own directorial career. Leo has been brought in to direct the play in which Norma has a part.
Both Justine Lewis and Eric Fink play their roles with humour. The father-daughter relationship has a special dynamic which shows comfort and familiarity. When Leo enters towards the end of the first act, he seems to be on the defensive with Norma and later with Benny. He wants her to remain in the play… she is unsure because of his former relationship with her father. She asks if he wants her to stay in the play because of her father, a variation on comparing her to Benny in whatever role she plays. At the end of the act Benny comes back on stage to face Leo. The second act begins where the first finished. Leo tries to convince Benny to let the past be in the past. The staging was humorous. First, they were both at the table, Benny goes to sit on the bench, Leo joins him but the audience sees how Benny feels about that. Benny goes back to the table and Leo follows. At the end Norma brings a program and insists Benny read her bio. The last sentence says daughter of Benny Silverman and he says it’s not enough.
“The Value of Names” premiered at the Actors Theatre of Louisville on November 4, 1982. It is set in 1983. Though the play is a wonderful comedy, the political overtones of the fifties and the damage it caused in many peoples’ lives was also powerful.
The Teatron Toronto Jewish Theatre is presenting “The Value of Names” by Jeffrey Sweet at the Toronto Centre for the Arts until March 1st.