The Indiana Wesleyan University Theatre Guild will explore a sometimes overlooked portion of American history this weekend in its production of Trumbo: Red, White & Blacklisted.
The play, directed by Dr. Greg Fiebig and starring professional actor Robert Newman and student Josh Lillyman (so), follows the life of screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. Trumbo was a member of the blacklisted Hollywood Ten during the height of the Red Scare and McCarthyism in the 1940s and 50s, but continued to work in Hollywood under the pseudonym Robert Rich.
Newman, who plays the title role of Dalton Trumbo, starred in the soap opera Guiding Light for more than 20 years and has appeared in numerous television shows, movies and theater productions over his career. He said his personal connection with Fiebig led him to take this role in a college production.
“He’s been trying to get me out there for a little while in some sort of guest star’s capacity and this kind of seemed like a really good vehicle and the timing’s right so here I’m gonna be,” Newman said.
Lillyman plays Trumbo’s son Christopher and functions as a narrator for the play. He said he has seen parallels in the relationship between Christopher and his father Dalton in his own relationship with his real-life father.
“Right when I was reading off a letter that Trumbo sent to Christopher I got a letter from my dad that was a handwritten letter,” Lillyman said. “So on a personal level it resonates very well for me.”
Fiebig said he has wanted to perform this play at IWU since he saw it for the first time in 2006 and believes it is a very timely subject matter with the current political climate.
“I think this is one of those stories that will help us kind of see where we are and how it parallels where we’ve been and maybe try to circumvent some of those circumstances,” Fiebig said.
Newman echoed Fiebig’s sentiment and said it is important to look back on the past to better inform how we interpret the present.
“I do have a fear that we are entering into a time now that lists could be made,” Newman said. “People’s names could be on them and it could affect their ability to live their lives, and I think it’s a cautionary tale now to go back and look at this again.”
Rehearsals for Trumbo were a bit unusual, as Newman was not present due to other projects he’s working on. Fiebig would communicate with Newman via text, email and phone conversations and stand in as Dalton Trumbo while rehearsing with Lillyman.
“We might have one chance to kind of get together and then the show goes up before a live studio audience,” Fiebig said. “So it’ll be fun.”
Newman said he is most looking forward to getting to embody the brilliant and flamboyant Trumbo.
“As you read through some of these letters that he had written throughout his time when he was on the blacklist, you really get a sense of what an extraordinary thinker he was as well,” Newman said. “There are a lot of roles that I take on because I just want to play that person. I want to get inside that person’s skin and that person’s mind.”
Fiebig said the Theatre Guild’s second season is an avenue for plays with a more difficult subject matter to be presented and discussed. The show comes with a disclaimer that it contains “brief strong language.”
“The second season is an opportunity to process new plays that are a little bit more edgy from the perspective that they create room for discussion,” Fiebig said. “So after every one of the performances there will be a talk back.”
Trumbo: Red, White & Blacklisted will be performed Thursday, Feb. 23 at 7:30 p.m. at the Baker Recital Hall in the Phillippe Performing Arts Center and Friday and Saturday, Feb. 24-25 at 7:30 p.m. in the Tree of Life Atrium located at 1500 S. Western Ave. in Marion.
Check out our full interview with Robert Newman below.